Randy Hampton doesn't mean to downplay the seriousness of Colorado's mountain pine beetle epidemic - especially considering the serious fire and erosion concerns it presents - but he says "it hasn't risen to the crisis level for wildlife."
"It's kind of a mixed bag," said Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "Animals aren't going to fall over dead. : Really what we are looking at is a lot of secondary impacts."
Hampton said a number of people are researching what effect the epidemic might have on the state's wildlife population, but for the time being, he expects animals to simply move somewhere else if they need to.
"Lodgepole pine is not required for the functioning of the ecosystem," Hampton said. "It changes the ecosystem some but not always in a way that hurts wildlife. : It's a challenge, but from a wildlife population perspective, it's not catastrophic."
John Twitchell, a Steamboat Springs-based forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, said cavity-nesting birds no doubt will benefit from the abundance of dead trees the beetle will leave in its wake. Squirrels, however, may suffer from a major reduction in cones.
Animals such as snowshoe hares will benefit from the food provided by the young lodgepole pine trees that will replace the trees being killed now, Twitchell said. And what's good for snowshoe hare will, in turn, benefit their predators, such as lynx.