Our View: Beetles teach balance


Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008

  • Bryna Larsen, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Eric Morris, community representative
  • Paul Draper, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The mountain pine beetle epidemic is a clear wake-up call to foresters and the public about how to manage and interact with ever-changing ecosystems across the Rocky Mountain West.

Simply put, forest management must change with the forests.

Wildfires, once the bane of foresters and fire crews, increasingly are seen as necessary natural events that do as much good as harm. Logging, once the source of vastly negative public sentiment, increasingly is seen as an industry that promotes forest health - but also will intensify debates about the preservation of roadless areas. Fostering tree diversity is a more proactive approach to nurturing vibrant forests than fighting individual infestations, such as bark beetles, in pines or spruce.

These lessons are apparent in The Last Stand, a five-part series about the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the West's dying forests. The series concludes in this edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today with "Rebirth," an installment that looks ahead to the growth of the next forest and new uses - such as homebuilding - for beetle-kill lumber.

That rebirth will bring growing pains as foresters adjust to new management principles and ideas.

"We haven't allowed fire to play its natural job," Lynn Barclay, a Craig-based fire education specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, said in Part 4 of The Last Stand. She and several foresters spoke about how wildfires can naturally thin forests that have grown too thick, too old and too susceptible to bark beetle infestations.

But what happens when a wildfire erupts, for example, on Rabbit Ears Pass?

If the U.S. Forest Service enacts a "let it burn" policy, reducing its response to wildfires with no urban interface, tough questions will have to be answered about the impacts to our tourism economy, property values and more. As the U.S. Forest Service articulates its vision for the future of Rocky Mountain eco-systems, the onus is on the public to take a renewed interest in forest management that impacts us all.

And homeowners in forested areas can do much to reduce wildfire threats to their property, such as removing unhealthy vegetation, creating "defensible space" around the home and pruning trees.

The example of wildfires highlights perhaps the greatest lesson of The Last Stand: Mother Nature does not, ultimately, adapt to us. We must adapt to her.

As the bark beetle devastation continues to impact local industries and homeowners, increase fire danger and give rise to our future forests, our ability to adapt will be crucial.

Perhaps the greatest understatement about bark beetles came from John Twitchell, a Steamboat Springs-based forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.

Commenting about the public's perception of forest management as the mountain pine beetle epidemic rages across the Rocky Mountain West, Twitchell said, "This is a teachable moment."

It certainly is. And we all have lessons to learn.


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