Epidemic not affected by cold

Subzero weather doesn't impact spruce beetle population

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— Although the Yampa Valley has experienced numerous days of subzero temperatures this winter, the frosty weather is not expected to minimize the spruce beetle epidemic in Routt County.

The swelling beetle population is expected to make it out of the winter months unscathed and set the table for fire hazards this summer, which has county officials worried.

"It is too bad," U.S. Forest Service's Andy Cadenhead said of the weather's impact on the beetle population. "It is kind of a waste of cold weather."

The beetle population within the Routt National Forest increased dramatically in 2001.

Aerial surveys done every year from 1996 through 2000 showed between 40 and 80 trees killed each year by spruce beetles.

But aerial surveys done last summer showed that spruce beetles killed more than 10,000 trees.

For the frigid weather to have had an impact on the beetle population, it was needed before the snow started to fall, he said.

Temperatures needed to kill beetles needed to drop between 35 and 40 degrees below zero in November.

"The majority of the beetles are in the base of the tree, which is now covered by several feet of snow," he said. "The snow is insulating where the beetles are."

Beetles are expected to be a problem this summer as they continue to feed on a plentiful supply of trees.

In 1997, winds exceeding more than 120 mph toppled more than 4 million trees on 13,000 acres within the Routt National Forest.

Spruce beetles seek out the fallen trees out to feed on the cambium layer under the bark, while the dying tree's natural defenses diminish.

With the beetle population surging, the pests are now attacking healthy trees.

A large population of beetles doesn't need dying trees to live in. Instead, about 2,000 beetles collectively attack one standing tree, exhaust the tree's defenses and eventually kill it. From that one tree, between 30,000 and 40,000 beetles can be produced.

Cadenhead, who leads a beetle-suppression team, said the Forest Service is mapping out a plan to protect numerous areas from the beetles this summer.

"In July and August, people will notice a lot of trees dying," he said.

Several campgrounds in Hahn's Peak, Seedhouse, Granite Summit and those on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes are expected to be areas where beetle suppression will be in full force, Cadenhead said.

Suppression efforts will also be geared to protect the Steamboat Ski Area and housing developments.

Chuck Vale, county director of emergency services, is worried beetles will increase the fire hazard in the county this summer.

The past two summers have been dry, and the county has been plagued with a number of wildland fires.

Vale said the Wildland Fire Council is mapping areas of the county to determine where wildland fire hazards are.

Once that map is complete, Vale plans to use the map to determine if beetles exist in these areas.

"I am sure the beetle issue will change the map," he said.

Officials are concerned the beetles will increase the fuel dead trees for wildland fires in the southern and northern parts of the county.

"As the trees die, the needles will turn red," Cadenhead said. "It is quite a fuel hazard."

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