The mountain pine beetles continued to spread through Colorado forests in 2008. The numbers are bleak: 400,000 acres succumbed to the beetles last year. That adds to the 1.5 million acres affected by the beetles in the past 10 years or so. Most of those acres were attacked by the beetles in the past few years as a medium-term drought and warmer winter nights have made their influence felt over the state and region.
The area where the beetles moved through in 2008 shifted from years past to the Front Range. Their effects will be more visible to larger number of Coloradans. I’ve seen the dead trees they leave behind from roads through the Rocky Mountains and from the air, thanks to a flight set up by the Wilderness Society during the DNC in August 2008. It is widespread and it continues to grow. Colorado, after all, is only one state affected by differing species of beetles. The remainder of the Rocky Mountains also suffer from the beetle epidemic, from Mexico through Canada. The RMN article doesn’t include numbers from other states or provinces. Once I locate them, I’ll make note of them.
Two pellet mills are now operating in Kremmling and Walden. They buy trees that can’t be otherwise salvaged. Lumber from dead trees is also showing up for sale in a growing number of places (thanks to efforts by people like Sen. Dan Gibbs). The Forest Service and local municipalities are trying to educate the public about the dangers of the millions of acres of dead trees. Gov. Ritter formed his Forest Health Council almost a year ago, as he works to keep up to date with the issue. His efforts led to the introduction of the Healthy Forests/Vibrant Communities Act of 2009.
Colorado hasn’t seen a bad wildfire season in a number of years, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it has allowed for the removal of a large number of trees around human populated areas. It’s bad because the extent of dead trees continues to grow – setting the stage for potentially catastrophic wildfires in the future. If there is a series of dry thunderstorms one summer, a lot of acres are going to burn.
$13 million in federal funds is expected to find its way to Colorado this year. That’s more than the $8 million made available last year. It’s less than the $20 million needed by agencies to help alleviate some of the threat. I will note that there were a couple of bills in the U.S Congress last year that were written to help deal with maintaining our forests’ health. Neither of them moved out of committee, despite being written by Dem. Rep. Mark Udall in a Democratic-led Congress. I realize there are plenty of things on Congress’ plate, but this is simply an issue that can’t be shuttled to the side for very long. Tomorrow’s costs due to today’s inaction grow exponentially with each passing year (wildfire and climate change both apply).
Climate change is already changing the planet. The beetle epidemic is but one manifestation of it. Unfortunately, the infestation is one of the things that climatologists couldn’t predict on their own. Coordination between climatologists, biologists and many other kinds of specialists is needed to communicate the eventual effects climate change will have on the planet. As we move forward, those efforts need to be made so that their cost to our society can be appropriately tallied and dealt with.