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Environment: Pine beetle “Battle of the Bulge?”

A map based on the 2008 aerial surveys shows the extent and severity of pine beetle infestation in Colorado. State and federal forest experts will release the 2009 results Jan. 22 at a press conference in Denver.

Insect attacks slowed slightly in Summit County, forest experts to release 2009 aerial survey results

By Bob Berwyn

Check back in with Summit Voice Friday  morning for the area’s most expert coverage of the pine beetle press conference, including live tweets as the press conference unfolds. Follow us on Twitter here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a year ago, Colorado forest experts were calling the pine beetle outbreak “catastrophic.” At current infestation rates, the tiny insects were expected to kill at least half the state’s large diameter lodgepole pine forests within three to five years.

But in recent weeks, foresters and entomologists have changed their tune slightly, suggesting that maybe the bugs have started to eat themselves out of house and home.

The latest official word on the pine beetle situation will come Friday, when state and federal forest experts release data and maps from the most recent round of aerial surveys. The annual status report helps detail the spread of the infestation.

In Summit County, the spread of the beetle infestation did slow down somewhat last summer, according to Sandy Briggs, of the local forest health task force.

“We didn’t quite see the amount of beetle attacks that we did previously,” Briggs said. “We don’t know if it was the wetter weather or if they’ve just started running out of trees.”

In parts of Colorado where most of the mature trees have already been killed, the pine beetles may be running out of food and places to reproduce. But whether that slows the spread in areas that haven’t yet been been hit as hard as the north-central mountains remains to be seen.

In the northern part of the county, most of the mature host trees have already been killed. The battleground now is the south part of the county, around Breckenridge, Briggs said.

“It can be kind of like the flu, where it dies down and flares back up. We could see a Battle of the Bulge situation,” he said, explaining that the current outbreak is so unprecedented in scope that even the experts are hard-pressed to make accurate predictions of how it might play out in the long run.

Even if the rate of the infestation has slowed in the north-central mountain region, there are still huge swaths of forest to the south and west — Lake County, for example — with ample host and feeding areas for the beetles. The infestation recently started moving into the Aspen area, where heightened awareness and concern starting building last year.

The forests around Aspen aren’t quite as homogenous with lodgepole pines, so that could make a difference in how the beetles affect that area.

In early December, the Forest Service directed an additional $40 million to address public safety concerns and forest health needs arising from the millions of acres of dead and dying trees from bark beetle infestations in the West.

The additional funding for Rocky Mountain Region, where some of the most serious levels of infestation are located. $5 million came from federal stimulus funds.

“These funds will help the Forest Service address this significant public safety and forest health priority,” said Forest Service Chief Tidwell.

The U.S. Forest Service also formed a National Incident Management Organization  team to manage the removal of hazard trees along roads, power lines and in campgrounds; develop safety protocols for those working in beetle infested area; and develop fire preparedness and management plans to address the increased wildfire threat posed by dead and falling trees.

Check back in with Summit Voice Friday  morning for the area’s most expert coverage of the pine beetle press conference, including live tweets as the press conference unfolds. Follow us on Twitter here.

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  1. [...] Environment: Pine beetle “Battle of the Bulge?” [...]

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