Beetle may kill 90 percent of Summit’s forest |

Beetle may kill 90 percent of Summit’s forest

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyA vast stand of lodgepole pine is littered with red dying trees showing the effect of the mountain pine beetle in the White River National Forest.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Mountain pine beetles are still finding new trees to kill at an unprecedented rate in local forests, with no signs that the infestation will slow down any time soon.

“We’re just looking for some really cold weather,” said Sandy Briggs, of the local pine beetle task force, referring to a hoped-for cold snap that might kill some of the larvae in the trees and limit the damage.

The bugs are expected to kill 90 percent of the lodgepole trees in the area, decimating the predominant tree species at the mid-elevations in Summit County, Briggs said.

Reports from Forest Service field rangers and from private forestry companies are that the beetles had another strong flight this summer, leaving behind the old host trees and are spreading wildly to new targets.

Every green tree that hadn’t previously been hit by the beetles showed signs of an attack from this summer, he said. Now there’s worry that spruce trees will be hit next.

U.S. Forest Service Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said the beetles do look for other trees when they run out of lodgepoles. But they won’t devastate spruce forests in the same way they did in lodgepole stands, he added.

“It’s a desperation move,” Newton said. “There will be some collateral damage but it won’t have an effect on a landscape basis,” Newton said. The pine beetles can attack spruce trees and inoculate them with the deadly blue-stain fungus, but they can’t reproduce in spruce trees, Newton said.

The number of infested trees continues to grow exponentially in the county, Newton said. There aren’t any exact figures on how many trees have already been killed, but in the northern part of the county, the mortality rate may have already reached the 90-percent mark, Newton said. The southern part of the county may reach that level by this time next year, he added.

The Forest Service is close to making logging contracts that would help remove some of the fire-ready trees from local neighborhoods, Newton said. The timber sale covering the area between Silverthorne and Frisco, on both sides of I-70, is done, and work will begin this fall, he said.

Along with the potential wildfire danger, another huge concern is the impact to local watersheds. The change in the structure of the forest is bound to have significant effect on snowpack and runoff, Briggs said.

“The lack of shade means the snow will melt much faster under direct sunlight, and as the trees fall down, the wind will also play more of a role in transporting snow. Peak runoff could come much earlier in the spring and at higher levels, leading to erosion issues,” Briggs said.

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