Pine beetle epidemic slows in Colorado

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— An annual forest health survey released Wednesday shows the mountain pine beetle is on the retreat in Colorado, but the spruce beetle is gaining ground in parts of the state.

“The mountain pine beetle epidemic at least in the public’s mind is getting to be old news in areas like here because they have depleted their food supply,” said John Twitchell, district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service.

Pine beetles may have starved themselves out by destroying mature lodgepole pine trees, but Twitchell warned that we will be dealing with the impacts of the mountain pine beetle for years to come as the trees begin to topple and become dense piles of wood that could help fuel fires.

According to the forest health survey produced by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, the mountain pine beetle has infested nearly 3.4 million acres since the outbreak first was noticed in 1996. In the past year, the pine beetle epidemic grew by 31,000 acres, which is significantly less than last year’s growth of 140,000 acres.

At the same time, the spruce beetle outbreak is expanding in Colorado with an additional 183,000 acres impacted in 2012, according to a news release. Since 1996, there have been 924,000 areas impacted. The most impacted areas are in southern Colorado in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests.

“Here in Routt County, I don’t think we’re going to see anything dramatic,” Twitchell said.

According to the release, the spruce beetle epidemic is growing for reasons similar to the pine beetle epidemic.

“The increase in spruce beetle activity is due to factors that increase tree stress, including densely stocked stands, ongoing drought conditions and warmer winters,” the release stated.

At the same time, those property owners who have yet to clear their stands of beetle-killed timber might be in a good position financially to finally have the trees taken out, Twitchell said.

Timber prices have gone up, which Twitchell said means property owners might now be sitting on timber that is worth something rather than being a liability. Twitchell said regional timber prices have gone up because an additional mill opened in Saratoga, Wyo., and there now is more competition for the dead timber.

“Wood is back in the black, and that’s good news,” Twitchell said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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