Due to a lack of continuous sub-freezing temperatures in recent winters and nearly a century of forest growth, the Mountain Pine Beetle has been able to proliferate throughout the lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests of Colorado. I’ve written about federal and state efforts to try to stem the damage done in catastrophic beetle kill in Colorado and Ritter’s Forest Health Council.
There were a couple of articles in the local papers in the past couple of weeks that provide information on more local efforts to deal with this situation, which would more accurately be described as a crisis waiting to happen. On the one hand, there are 1.5 million acres of dead trees that are slowly rotting. Until they all fall and mostly return to the earth, they pose a serious fire danger to the ecosystems they currently inhabit. Secondly, the beetles will continue to march their way through the forests until they run out of food. There are two options to consider there: either wait until the winters get cold a number of years in a row or get proactive and work to limit their spread by treating and felling trees.
The first article dealt with injections of bug toxins directly into trees by Vail Resorts. I wish the online version also showed the map that appeared in the print edition – it showed the 1996-2007 bug activity and 2007 activity where none had been detected before. The range of these beetles increased rapidly last year. In any event, the article describes the technique utilized: plugs or drill holes are employed. Toxins are injected into both healthy and infected trees. One downside of this process is that it is labor intensive: a person has to do the work to each tree, whereas spraying can be applied more quickly. Vail is using this technique in an attempt to save certain stands of trees – both to ensure some remain alive for ecosystem concerns as well as ensuring trees survive as wind breaks so that lift operations can continue in high wind situations.
The company hired to do this work, Arborjet, estimates that it will cost $20 to treat each tree. The process has to be repeated every 2-3 years for the next 10 years. Their product is awaiting approval from the EPA, expected by June of this year. A spokesman for the company said that the chemical is safe and does not enter the water table or affect wildlife. I’m not sure about that claim and I’m not even sure getting the EPA to approve it means that it is safe, what with the Agency being stocked with Bush cronies for seven years.
The second article detailed another method of dealing with the beetle problem: clearing infected trees. The U.S. Forest Service has been busy using tree pulverizers to change infected trees into mulch for the forest. The area in question is the Pike National Forest, a beautiful part of the state. I have many good memories of camping among the ponderosa forests in the Pike National Forest. It would be a shame to have it destroyed. They’re focusing on cutting up the “brood trees”: trees that harbor the pine-beetle larvae prior to their reawakening during spring. I hope these efforts slow down the spread of the beetles.
I would also like to commend the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News for maintaining a focus on this story. This is only one example of a result of climate change. The steps described above demonstrate current efforts to adapt to new realities.