January 15, 2008

Lodgepole Pines May be Wiped Out in Several Counties

Most of Colorado's lodgepole pine trees stand to be dead within the next 5 years.  In 1996, a bark beetle infestation was detected, and last year it spread over 500,000 acres more than previous years. Federal forestry officials say that this brings the total count of affected acres to 1.5 million.

This infestation mainly affects five northern counties which straddle the Continental Divide, and has recently spread to part of southern Wyoming and the Front Range. Those effected counties are Boulder, Chaffee, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Lake and Larimer.

Not only do these beetles kill the trees, in turn, they cause the potential for fires to increase. Bob Kane, regional entomologist with the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service says that the dead trees will remain for a few years after the beetles attack, and they will retain their needles. The danger of fire will decrease once the needles finally fall off; however it will again increase when those trees fall in about ten years.

Entomologist Ingrid Aguayo claims that this isn't the end for lodgepoles and that, "It's not going to be a moon landscape like a lot of people think" once the lodgepoles die out. Seedlings are already beginning to sprout. On the other hand it could be up to 50 years before the lodgepoles return to their population prior to the beetle attack.

Some good is coming out of this. Jim Maxwell, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman says that the "lack of trees will increase the water supply by 30 percent on National Forest Lands for about 20 years because trees will no longer be pumping water out of the soil," according to an article by AP writer Ivan Moreno.

What is unfortunate is that only 20-below-zero temperatures for a long period of time can kill the beetles, and it has not gotten cold enough for long enough for that to happen.


Photo Credit: Walter Siegmund