Steamboat Springs The forests are taking a beating lately.
While large-scale fire and drought have left a visible mark on the woods this summer, a smaller adversary continues to plague the trees.
Its methods, however, are somewhat subtler.
The bark beetle, though no larger than a grain of rice, imparts heavy casualties on forests nationwide.
But U.S. Forest Service officials recognize the bothersome bugs, like fire touched off by lightning strikes, are part of nature's process.
"This is a naturally occurring event," said Diann Pipher, public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service.
"It's by no means an ecological disaster."
That means Forest Service crews are fighting the beetles in areas of the Routt National Froest that are highly valued by humans and only monitoring those areas that cannot be realistically saved.
Areas of high human value identified by the community and the Forest Service include the ski area, campgrounds, scenic corridors and harvested areas.
Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass and campgrounds off Seedhouse Road represent specific high value areas where efforts are being made to protect spruce and lodgepole pine from infestation.
Forest Service crews kill hordes of beetles in those locations by chopping down beetle-infested trees and using modified chainsaws to peel off the bark.
Infested trees are fated to die, so crews take those trees out of the mix to save unaffected trees from infestation, said Brian Waugh, beetle operations chief with the Forest Service.
"We remove those trees to prevent further spread," Waugh said.
Waugh and entomologist Carl Jorgensen visited a number of sites in the Routt National Forest earlier this week to check on the status of beetle infestation.
The bark beetle's peak flight season is underway, which means the insects are at the height of their attack.
With the help of beetle traps attached to trees, the men are able to monitor the level of infestation.
The lengthy trap, comprised of a column of 16 black funnels, is outfitted with pheromones to attract the beetles.
Beetles drawn to the trap fall through the series of openings at the bottom of each funnel and land in a small cup.
Jorgensen emptied the bugs from each cup into his gloved hand, sifted through the small black shapes and placed them in small bags for future counting.
He estimated about 50 bugs fell into each cup.
Beetle infestation causes a slow death that might go unnoticed by the undiscerning eye.
A quick swing from Jorgensen's ax to a tree, however, showed the deadly work of the beetles beneath the bark.
The needles of infested trees show little fading or discoloring within the first year of a beetle attack. Some trees retain their color for a second year before their needles turn yellowish-green or orange-red.
Such discoloring is obvious near blowdown areas in Routt National Forest, where patches of green stick out on a canvas of orange and yellow.
The dotted landscape can be disheartening, but Forest Service officials understand that it represents the natural succession of forests.
"Trees and beetles have always existed," Pipher said.
"This won't be a barren landscape by any means, because the beetles won't kill all of the spruce."