Saturday, January 4, 2014

Colorado Western Pine Beetle Infestation -- Bad News Bugs

Rocky Mountain National Park
Will the bark beetle
disease that's desiccating the Rocky Mountain high country forests spread to other areas?  Pray for a very deep cold snap.  It's really the only hope of stemming the horrible destruction wrought on the beautiful Rockies by a beetle no bigger than the tip of a pinkie finger.

Whiskey Creek Trail Eagle Vail Colorado
The situation is grave, caused by five millimeters of buggy destruction. 

Colorado's recent extended deep freeze is likely not enough to stop these prolific insects.  Late fall is when these pests are vulnerable to extinction.  By December they're surrounded by an insulating blanket of snow.

Many folks east of the Rockies are unaware of the horrific destruction caused by the pine or bark beetle on the natural world west of Denver.

The attack on Rocky Mountain lodge pole forests began in 1999, but warmer winters have increased the winter survival rate for the pine beetle. 

Nearly seven million acres have been deforested in Colorado alone.  It's as if every single tree in the state of Rhode Island had been removed.

In August we ventured to our favorite scenic ridge overlooking the Rocky Mountain National Park.  The view from the top of the world was shocking.  Miles of grayish brown trees covered the steep slopes where a blanket of deep green had once created a breathtaking view.  At the western entrance, the slightly warmer city of Granby looked desolate--poles of dead trees everywhere.

There's nothing pretty about this infestation.

Scabs of yellow goo pockmark the gentle giants as a
first sign of disease.

Rangers and volunteers have rallied to stem the tide by felling dead and diseased trees but there's no effective means of obliteration or containment.    Pesticides aren't effective or safe in an infestation of this immense magnitude.

Three hours away, along winding Whiskey Trail, severed tree trunks littered the once lovely hiking trail.  Cutting down infected forests are calculated attempts by forestry experts to reduce the risk to healthy trees.  In nearby
Minturn, the blue sky above Two Elks trail buzzed with the beating wings of forestry helicopters engaged in the painstaking and dangerous task of chaining, airlifting, and trucking telephone pole sized tree trunks from the area.  The complex and costly logistics of removal make real progress nearly impossible.

Tigiwon Trail Eagle County
Aside from the environmental and aesthetic impact, tall spires of dead brush make for an unprecedented fire hazard of epic proportions.  According the United States Department of Agriculture Forestry Service, ignition of beetle-killed trees could cause wildfires of catastrophic proportions.  Now the rotting trees are falling without regard to life or lodging in their path.  Many campgrounds and hiking trails are closed indefinitely.

Aside from the inconvenience to bipeds, four-legged creatures are suffering from the direct attack on their environment.  The desiccation of wildlife habitat is unprecedented.  The lack of shelter and modification of food sources affects nutrition and breeding of scarce winged and hoofed forest creatures.

The risk remains acute as the hungry beetle has destroyed most of the pines in the high mountains.

Lower elevations are now at risk.

Humans can help reduce the spread by avoiding the transportation of diseased firewood and taking extreme care with anything incendiary like bonfires, barbeques and cigarette buts.  When the Emerald Ash Borer obliterated the Ash tree population in Michigan, the bugs made it across the Great Lakes to the upper peninsula in firewood transported via the Mackinaw Bridge.  In Colorado the destruction is more
global as forests there tend to be more homogeneous.

The only slight consolation is that understory Aspen trees are thriving, now that the shade canopy has thinned considerably.

Like any good parent, Mother Earth tries to compensate as best she can. 

More Articles of Interest:

Perpetual Poinsettia -- How to Care for your Christmas Flower

Colorado Wildflowers -- Tiny yet Tenacious

Rockery and Roll -- Xeriscape Gardening