Forest Service wraps up beetle-suppression work

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— The U.S. Forest Service wrapped up bark beetle suppression work at the Steamboat Ski Area and other portions of the Routt National Forest and is just about finished with work near Coulton Creek.

The Forest Service calculates 600 trees were treated at the ski area. In all, 1,500 trees will have been treated in portions of the forest determined to be high in human value. That includes the ski area, scenic corridors near Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes and most campgrounds. Nearly all of the trees, which are destined to die from beetle infestation, are cut down and the bark peeled off to lethally expose the beetle, said Andy Cadenhead, who heads the beetle-suppression team for the Forest Service.

The Forest Service also sprayed pesticide on 194 healthy trees at the Seed House Campground to prevent beetle infestation.

The Forest Service hopes to finish up some work in the Coulton Creek area and at the base of Buffalo Pass before snow falls.

Cadenhead said each infested tree has the capacity to hold 10,000 to 30,000 beetles, which works out to be between 150 million and 450 million insects killed by the work.

However, rough estimates showed the work treated about 1 percent of the infested trees in the forest. Cadenhead explained the effort is an attempt to protect a few select areas, not stop the beetle infestation.

The work is in response to spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle epidemics. The 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown sparked the spruce beetle epidemic and stands to kill most mature spruce trees in the Routt National Forest. The pine beetle epidemic is a natural 12-year bulge in the insect's population.

Four years of suppression work for the pine beetles at the ski area appears to be paying off, with the Forest Service finding less pine trees infested. The outlook on the spruce beetle is not as promising, Cadenhead said.

The Forest Service determined balmy summer conditions the past couple of years increased most of the beetle's reproductive cycle from every two years to every one year. Last month forest officials reported 550 trees at the ski area were infested in the spring, and those trees will begin dying in a year or so. Last year they found 150 newly infested trees. Similar increases can be found throughout the Routt National Forest but are most concentrated near blowdown areas in North Routt County.

At Coulton Creek, near Seed House Road, 80 percent of the beetles are on a one-year life cycle.

"That's really drastically different than what the norm would be," Cadenhead said.

The increased numbers of beetles means locals will notice more dead trees in and around the forest next summer.

"This is what we've been talking about," Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said. She helped spearhead a public relations campaign to inform Routt County residents about the beetle infestation. "Hopefully no one will be surprised."

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