Officials ask for beetle comments

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— After six years of relatively stability, the mountain pine beetle population in the Gore Pass area increased roughly 20-fold last summer.

If nothing is done in the next five years, impacts from the beetles could be very severe, U.S. Forest Service representative Andy Cadenhead said.

This summer, the U.S. Forest Service is working on a plan of action to control the infestation and limit fire danger and other damage. Drafting and accepting the plan begins with meetings Thursday and Monday to take public comment.

Local government officials, homeowners and other interested residents are invited to consider the plan, give their comments and "help us determine if that's the right thing to do," Cadenhead said.

Maps and other information on the growing beetle population will be available, and several Forest Service employees will be present to answer questions.

The area's drought and warm temperatures create perfect conditions for both mountain pine and spruce beetles, Cadenhead said.

Mountain pine beetles have been growing in number in North Routt County, the Granby area and in the 76,000-acre area in question near Gore Pass.

In the Gore Pass area, there are about 30,000 acres of lodgepole pine. The "vast majority" of those trees are moderately or highly susceptible to the mountain pine beetle attack, Cadenhead said. In stands that are highly susceptible, likely every tree will be killed by the insects, he said.

That sort of turnover of forests is natural, but it has impacts to streams, campgrounds and homes in the area. The impacts include hire risk of fire, changes in stream patterns and impacts to recreation and the look of the area.

Addressing on the infestation -- soon -- could mean some of those negative changes don't happen, Cadenhead said.

"If we're quick and aggressive, we might be able to have a fairly noticeable impact on how severe the epidemic is down there," he said.

The action plan proposals include thinning parts of the forest and taking out some healthy lodgepole pines to reduce susceptibility; removing infected trees; using pheromones to keep beetles away from some areas; and spraying the area's three campgrounds with pesticide to keep uninfested trees from being killed.

For areas where the beetles win the battle, workers will salvage dead material to break up the concentration of heavy fuels, Cadenhead said.

After public comment is taken during the next month, a draft plan will be released in the fall, then more public comment will be taken and a final decision will be released next spring so work can begin in the summer.

The public meetings are from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Yampa Ranger Station and from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Kremmling Bureau of Land Management and USFS office.

Public comment can also be phoned in to 870-2220 or faxed to 870-2284.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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