Colorado: Pine beetle epidemic wanes

Spruce beetle infestation grows in southwestern mountains

Aerial surveys show that spruce beetles are spreading in SW Colorado, while pine beetles slow their attack in the northern and central part of the state.
The spread of mountain pine beetles slowed to levels last seen in 2003.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Mountain pine beetle activity in Colorado dropped dramatically in 2012, to the lowest level in 10 years, according to state and federal officials who this week released the the results of their latest aerial surveys.

Mountain pine beetles are still spreading across parts of the mountains between Estes Park and Leadville, but new activity was reported on just 31,000 acres, down from 141,000 acres in 2011. Since the outbreak started in 1996, beetles killed trees across more than 3.4 million acres, but it’s important to remember that not every single tree died.

In the aftermath of the infestation, foresters are finding that pockets of younger trees survived the wave of beetles, even in the hardest-hit areas.

In southern Colorado, a spruce beetle outbreak is growing, partly driven by the same factors as the pine beetle epidemic — warmer winters, overgrown forests resulting from decades of aggressive fire suppression and drought conditions.

The aerial surveys showed that about 183,000 acres of spruce forests were hit by the bugs in 2012, bringing the total acreage up to about 924,000 acres. The San Juan and Rio Grande national forests are at the center of the spruce beetle infestation.

“Now more than ever it is important that we work across the entire landscape to ensure forests are more resilient for generations to come,” said Dan Jirón, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. “A vibrant forest products industry, aggressive community actions, strong collaborative efforts and targeted high-priority projects will allow us to make progress to promote forests more suitable for an uncertain future climate.”

“The spruce beetle epidemic in our high-elevation forests demonstrates the breadth and complexity of issues affecting Colorado’s forests,” said Joe Duda, Interim State Forester and Director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “Active forest management and a viable forest products industry will allow landowners and land management agencies to expand forest treatments on lands available for management, while reducing wildfire risk and protecting important natural resources and infrastructure.”

In late 2012, two 10-year stewardship contracts were awarded by the U.S. Forest Service to improve forest resiliency on 20,000 acres affected by the mountain pine beetle on the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River National Forests. These contracts are in addition to the Front Range and Pagosa Springs Long-Term Stewardship Contracts awarded previously. The contracts reduce forest health treatment costs and foster new uses of beetle-killed forest products to benefit forest resiliency and jobs.

The forest products industry is better positioned as mills come on line to take advantage of trees being removed from forested lands across Colorado. The U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service and partners are working to provide a reliable and predictable supply of biomass for new markets.


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