Community Agriculture Alliance: Pine beetles are spreading
Additional 400,000 acres saw infestation, according to surveys
February 18, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Each year, scientists with the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service conduct aerial surveys of forested lands across the state and Rocky Mountain region. The results of these surveys help forest managers better understand the spread and trends of insects and impacts of disease on forested lands.
The 2010 surveys revealed that the bark beetle infestation spread to an additional 400,000 acres, for a total of 4 million acres since 1996 in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Bark beetles continue to spread north and east and now are moving rapidly along the Front Range into ponderosa pine forests.
Spruce beetles affected an additional 150,000 acres in southern Colorado and Wyoming, where several wind events blew down thousands of acres of spruce trees. Many folks will remember the Routt Divide Blowdown in 1997, when about 13,000 acres of the Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs blew down in a freak wind storm. Some of that blowdown was logged, spruce beetles infested some of it, and the Mount Zirkel Fire Complex burned much of it in 2002. Logged areas and burned areas identified as "suitable for timber harvest" were replanted with lodgepole and spruce trees, which are thriving. Much of the area burned was in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, where natural processes are regenerating the forest.
The aerial survey also indicated that the aspen mortality situation has stabilized. Indications are that this condition peaked in 2008. Scientists think that dieback and mortality of large groves of aspen trees mostly was triggered by a long-term drought. In some groves, scientists detect regeneration where moisture recovery is high.
In the Routt National Forest, the mountain pine beetle epidemic has pretty much run its course and killed the majority of the pine trees. The dead trees will fall down during the next decade. The average dead lodgepole pine weighs about 1,000 pounds and can fall without warning, so it's crucial that visitors "look up, look down, look all around" and stay out of harm's way when traveling in forested areas.
For the past several years, the Forest Service has cut down dead trees — called hazard trees — from campgrounds, trailheads and along forest roads to provide for greater public safety. Some of the work was done using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. In 2010 alone, dead trees were removed from 151.5 miles along roads and 35 miles along trails; 650 acres of trees were removed or sprayed in recreation sites; and dead trees were removed from 4,823 acres of forest. These efforts will continue this year.
The city of Steamboat Springs, with a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, removed dead trees from along the Spring Creek Trail, Emerald Mountain, Steamboat Ski Area and in surrounding subdivisions. Colorado State Forest Service works with subdivisions and private landowners to provide grants and expertise in removing dead trees. The Forest Service also is working with power line companies on the removal of dead trees that could fall on power lines and disrupt service or start wildland fires.
The Forest Service and community groups plant thousands of trees every year. However, natural processes will regenerate the forest in most areas.
Diann Ritschard is the public affairs officer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.