Steamboat Springs Forest officials say a 2011 aerial survey helps confirm that the mountain pine beetle epidemic has slowed after devastating 3.3 million of the 24.5 million acres of forest across Colorado. But they caution that the epidemic is not over, particularly on Colorado’s Front Range, and that the effects on forests will be felt for decades to come.
Of Routt County’s 1 million acres of forest, the aerial survey showed that an additional 13,000 acres of forest were impacted by the pine beetle in 2011.
“That’s a very believable number,” said Steamboat Springs-based district forester John Twitchell, who works for the Colorado State Forest Service.
He said a high estimate of the total number of acres affected in Routt County during the epidemic is 345,000 acres.
“We’re not showing a lot of new acres infested,” Twitchell said. “We’re seeing there still is some green and there are a lot more areas that did not see 100 percent mortality.”
The results of the aerial survey were released this week by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service. The survey indicates that an additional 140,000 acres of tree mortality were detected across the state in 2011.
“The epidemic has spread into the Front Range area,” Twitchell said.
The mountain pine beetle began infesting lodgepole pine trees in large numbers in 1996. It drastically turned parts of the Rocky Mountain landscape red as the trees died. The epidemic peaked in Routt County in 2008.
According to a news release, areas of the Front Range, particularly Larimer County, continue to experience the highest mortality rates affecting ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees.
Efforts are ongoing to mitigate the dangers posed by the dead trees.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, $32 million was spent by the Rocky Mountain Region in 2011 to clean up, clear out or burn dead trees. In 2011 alone, dead or dying trees were removed from 275 miles of roads and 210 recreation sites.
The Forest Service continues to warn hikers of the dangers associated with the dead trees. In June, a 9-inch diameter tree fell on a 65-year-old woman near Granby. She survived but suffered a broken leg.
At Steamboat Ski Area this past fall, loggers began work on a project to remove 100 acres of dead trees. The ski area began logging in 2009, when there was an estimated 250 total acres of lodgepole pine on Mount Werner.
According to the ski area, logging related to the pine beetle epidemic will end up costing the resort about $500,000.
“The ski area is continuing their hazard three mitigation this next summer,” said Kent Foster, recreation manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
Foster said tree removal would continue as funding is available. He said more than 2,000 fallen trees were cleared from trails last summer.
Popular congregating areas such as campsites, trailheads, trails and roads will continue to be the priority for tree removal.
“There is a lot of work,” Foster said.
He said crews are trying to keep up in areas that persistently have a lot of downed trees, including the Scott Run trail and other trails off Seedhouse Road in northern Routt County.
“Those are the places where if we have some money we are trying to cut the trees out,” Foster said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com