Beetle battle intensifies in Breckenridge
Vail, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” As a wave of mountain pine beetles sweeps south through the High Country, officials in Breckenridge hope to reduce the loss of trees by taking the battle door to door.
“If I had known it was going to go this fast, I would have tried to do it sooner,” said Dan Dahlberg, watching as Breckenridge beetle inspector Chip Buttrick marked trees on his wooded lot with orange spray paint.
Dahlberg was referring to the startling speed with which the voracious bugs have chewed their way through local lodgepole pine forests. When he first had his property surveyed for beetles last year, he found 10 infested trees. By mid-May of this year, that number had climbed to 38.
Up in the Highlands neighborhood, the infestation has spread nearly five-fold in the past 12 months. A year ago, the neighborhood identified about 1,500 infested trees. So far this spring, that number stands somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 trees. Countywide, best estimates are that the insects will kill perhaps up to 80 or 90 percent of the susceptible mature trees.
Nobody believes the beetles can be stopped completely. But Buttrick hopes aggressive removal and extensive spraying will help preserve some high-value trees.
“We’re doing what we can to preserve property values,” Buttrick said, carefully chipping away some bark on one of Dahlberg’s lodgepoles to see if the female beetle laid eggs.
It’s a time-intensive crusade, and Buttrick expects to be at it all summer long, even with the help of an intern who will soon join the staff to assist with property inspections.
On Dahlberg’s lot, Buttrick is more conservative than the private contractor. After determining that a few of the trees previously marked for removal may not be fatally infested, he removed the flagging tape.
“These can stay,” he said, explaining that the goal is to find a balance between removing trees that could lead to further infestation, but preserving the forest in some neighborhoods.
Town officials want every property owner in Breckenridge to call the pine beetle hotline to schedule an inspection, with the goal of cutting and chipping infested trees by the end of June, before the mature bugs fly off to lay their eggs in new trees.
Under a recently adopted ordinance, infested trees have been declared a nuisance and property owners are responsible for removing them, but the town will help with the cost. To speed up the labor-intensive process, homeowners need to stack the cut trees by the road neatly, butt-ends out, with limbs in separate piles, Buttrick said.
The deadline for removing trees to be picked up by the town is June 30. The last day the town will chip the wood for free is July 15.
Dahlberg was expecting to pay somewhere around $9,000 to have the infested trees on his lot cut down, but by the time Buttrick finishes his inspection, it looks like that tab will have declined somewhat.
“I’m just interested in trees that have bugs in them,” Buttrick said, explaining that his focus is on removing trees with eggs that are vectors for new infestations this summer.