It looks like there might finally be an end to the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has destroyed and noticeably discolored vast areas of Colorado and southern Wyoming forests.
The Denver Post reports that the U.S. Forest Service is anticipating that the worst is over as the pine beetles have already depleted the majority of nutrients from the forests.
For most of the past 15 years, dense-packed lodgepole pine forests gave the rice-size black bugs ideal conditions, “and their populations went up like crazy,” Stephens said.
Now as beetles scramble for fresh wood to chew and sugar to sustain them through cold snaps, “they don’t find the same food quality and quantity. . . . That, ultimately, is going to drive populations back down.”
The beetles’ anticipated demise, however, “is kind of anti-climactic. We’re still left with the aftermath,” Wettstein said. “We’ve got wildfire threats. The most immediate hazard right now is falling trees. We’ll have falling tree hazards for at least 10 years.”
So, now what? Well, it looks like the hungry pine beetles may be headed for Mt. Rushmore, where they may hope to turn forests from CO2 sinks into net greenhouse gas emitters. In the meantime in Colorado, we can expect increased falling tree hazards for at least a decade and continued fights over spraying for pine beetles.
First it was the mysterious, wide-spread death of aspen trees.
Then it was the near annihilation of all of Colorado’s mature lodgepole forests by a plague of pine beetles.
Now, the forest service is worried about limber pines and their relatives in the white pine family, including the ancient bristlecone pines.
The combination of blister rust — a non-native fungus — and pine beetles, which also feed on limber pines, is killing off the ancient trees at unprecedented rates.
The U.S. Forest Service has recently beefed up a campaign to save limber pines by looking for the hardiest trees and collecting their cones.
From last weekend’s Daily Camera:
On Saturday, the first of several groups of volunteers organized by Boulder County’s Parks and Open Space Department will scour the mountains west of Boulder in an effort to save the limber pines by collecting their cones.
The cones — and more importantly, the seeds they contain — will be handed off to the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, where researchers will cultivate young pines, searching for the healthiest individual trees.
“We’re going to test the resulting seedlings for resistance to blister rust, an introduced fungal pathogen,” said Thomas Crow, manger of the limber pine program. “It’s part of a more proactive approach to management.”
Read more posts about forest health on BigGreenBoulder:
|Beetle-killed trees threaten Colorado power grid||Rocky Mountain aspens could disappear by 2090|
Foresters are still puzzling over why aspens in the Rocky Mountains are dying, a phenomenon that scientists are calling “sudden aspen decline,” or SAD.
But whatever the reason — many are blaming the added stresses of climate change — the situation doesn’t look good.
In Colorado, the number of acres with sick aspens — which drop their leaves, are ravaged by insects and can’t reproduce — has quadrupled between 2006 and 2008 to more than 850 acres, according to an article published by Reuters.
“What we think will happen is that aspen will disappear in some areas and there will not be anything we can do about it,” said SAD expert Wayne Shepperd of Colorado State University.
A study by scientists with the federal Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, Idaho presented just such a scenario. It predicted the near total disappearance of aspen in the Rocky Mountain region by 2090.
The research, to be published in Forest Ecology and Management, links ailing aspen to global climate change and concludes that up to 41 percent of Western forests would be unable to support aspen by 2030. That figure would rise to 75 percent by 2060 and as much as 94 percent in 2090.
Read the full story at www.reuters.com, check out information from the U.S. Forest Service about sudden aspen decline, or learn about what Boulder County is doing to preserve aspen stands after the jump. Read more
Pine beetles have infested about 2 million acres of Colorado’s lodgepole pine forest, and utility companies are worried that when the dead trees fall, they’ll fall on power lines.
This from the Vail Daily:
A wildfire along one of the West’s key power line corridors could shut down the grid in a worst-case scenario. To avoid disruption, the U.S. Forest Service wants to remove dead and dying trees along power lines crossing national forest system lands in northern Colorado. …
“There is an imminent threat to power lines from an increasing number of hazardous trees falling in the three forests,” said Cal Wettstein, commander of the Forest Service’s Bark Beetle Incident Management Team.
The U.S. Forest Service wants to work with utilities to cut down beetle-killed trees on land it manages in Colorado, including trees in the Roosevelt National Forest, which covers a swath of western Boulder County.
There are around 800 miles of distribution and transmission lines on the three National Forests — White River, Medicine Bow-Routt, and Arapaho and Roosevelt — according to the forest service, and about 400 miles run through lodgepole pine that has been or will likely be killed by the bark beetle.