Wilderness Wanderings: Danger lurks in the trees | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Danger lurks in the trees

Our local wildernesses can be a great place to experience the outdoors.  But it's important to be aware and cautious of the dangers lurking in the trees.

Pine beetles are native insects that have invaded our North American forests for thousands of years. The Mount Zirkel and Sarvis Creek Wilderness areas have been greatly affected by the pine beetle epidemic that started about the turn of this century.

In addition, the Flat Tops Wilderness Area had a similar event in the 1940s whereby a spruce beetle epidemic killed many thousands of that area's native spruce trees. Interestingly, more than a half century later, many of those dead trees are still standing, the result of the spruce having a deep root system. The lodge pole pine has much shallower roots which causes them to topple more readily.

Back in the Zirkels and Sarvis, the pine beetle kill was triggered by an extended drought in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This devastation still affects water flows and watersheds, future timber production, wildlife habitat, recreation sites, transmission lines and scenic views.

Beetle-killed trees also present a fuel buildup situation that has already caused massive wildfires including the 38,000 acre Beaver Creek fire in the northeast corner of the Zirkels and the surrounding area east of Walden during summer 2016.

We're also seeing numerous deadfall of beetle killed pine with every significant wind event that hits our area. Ten to 15 years after their death, the roots of pine trees are rotted, making them very unstable. It doesn't take much wind or even loose, wet soil for the trees to fall. Spend enough time in our forest and you'll probably hear or even see a tree fall.

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Yes, a tree does make a sound when a tree falls in the forest. And broken branches fly in all directions. Sawyers had a reason to nickname these flying branches "widow makers."

Friends of Wilderness volunteers and U.S. Forest Service crews keep busy working throughout the summer to clear our trails. If you come across a work crew clearing a blowdown — easily identifiable by groups of men and women using tools of the trade in wilderness: crosscut saws, hand saws and axes — stop and stand clear until you are told it's safe to hike though.

Also, if you see a tree down across a trail while hiking, make note of the location — including GPS coordinates and photo if you're equipped — and report it to FOW. Simply email to contact@friendsofwilderness.com. We appreciate that information and it enables our sawyers to clear the tree that much faster.

Have fun and be careful out there.

Mary Korch is a volunteer with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. Visit friendsofwilderness.com.

Safety tips:

  • Check weather forecasts before you head out. If the forecast calls for winds or heavy rain, maybe a hike isn’t the right activity for that day.
  • Recognize there is a risk from falling trees, whether or not the wind becomes significant.
  • Be cautious in areas where trees have fallen. If winds increase, hike out to open areas.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, particularly where you make rest stops and lunch breaks.
  • Be watchful for dead trees that have the potential to fall on other dead or living trees.
  • Listen for snapping and cracking. Look for snags and leaners.
  • Be cautious of where you set up your camp. Look for open areas, if possible.
  • Be especially careful in burn areas where partially burned, standing trees are especially unstable.