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Aspen group: Beetles are coming to Roaring Fork Valley

John Colson
jcolson@aspentimes.com
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times file photoA rapidly spreading pine beetle infestation is seen in a lodge pole pine forest above Dinkle Lake, outside of Carbondale.
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ASPEN ” A local group is cranking up the volume on its alarms about the mountain pine beetle infestation that has laid waste to vast forests in Canada, Wyoming and Colorado and is increasingly evident in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Unless the community acts swiftly, the beetle will decimate the trees in our parks and yards, around our recreation areas and viewsheds, just as it is doing in Vail, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge,” reads a statement from former Aspen mayor John Bennett and For The Forest.

The nonprofit organization is working to alert local communities to what the group describes as a looming threat of widespread deforestation and increasingly destructive forest fires across broad stretches of the Western landscape, from Canada to New Mexico.



“It’s a huge issue and it has enormous global warming implications,” Bennett said, noting that more than 50,000 square miles of forests in western Canada have been killed off, along with more than 2,300 square miles of forests in north-central Colorado, and vast numbers of trees in Montana and Wyoming.

The dead trees in Canada alone, according to Werner Kurz of the Canadian Forest Service, are predicted to release 990 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they decompose over the next two decades.



Kurz estimated that this release of greenhouse gases would be “roughly equivalent to five years of emissions from Canada’s transportation sector,” The Associated Press reported last April.

Scientists also estimate that every tree infested by mountain pine beetles will, in the course of a year, spread the infestation to five nearby trees.

“That’s a huge geometric growth factor,” Bennett said Monday at a news conference in Aspen.



Responding to statements by doubters that the beetle infestation is simply a natural process that should not cause alarm, Bennett rejoined, “Nothing like this has ever existed in recorded history. It’s the scale of the epidemic that is the unnatural aspect of this.”

But the picture of the forests’ future painted by Bennett and his group is not all gloomy.

A recent excursion to the town of Merritt, British Columbia, revealed the lengths to which one community has gone to protect the surrounding forest, Bennett said.

At Merritt, the techniques used have included “aggressive” thinning of the forest around the town, with particular care given to locating and removing infected trees; the use of a pheromone, known as verbenone, which has been found to repel the beetles and prevent infestation; and other methods.

Bennett said that on a broader scale, some Canadian experts are considering the use of controlled burns on a massive scale to contain the infestation to British Columbia and parts of western Alberta.

“Nobody’s lighting the match for that one yet,” Bennett quipped, “but they are thinking about it.”

On a recent trip to Merritt by Bennett and others with For The Forest, Bennett acknowledged the differences between that part of Canada and the Roaring Fork Valley in an interview with a local newspaper.

“While Colorado has more mixed tree species and higher elevations than Merritt, we’re very excited to see how we can use the strategies we’ve seen here,” Bennett told The Merritt Herald newspaper.

To further its mission to educate and motivate the community into action, For The Forest has organized a “community action forum,” scheduled 5:30 p.m. March 2 at the Hotel Jerome Ballroom in Aspen.

The event will include a screening of a 13-minute film on the mountain pine beetle epidemic, “A Call To Action,” by Emmy Award-winning local filmmaker Greg Poschman. Also slated are talks by two scientists working on the issue ” Dr. Nancy Gillette, a California specialist on verbenone, and Tom Lacey, said to be a leader in Merritt’s efforts.


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