Colorado Parks sacrificing trees to save forests
DENVER, Colorado ” Coloradans might not recognize some areas of their state parks this summer as crews plan to chop down 6,000 trees at risk of or already infested with pine beetles ” bringing the number of felled trees to about 11,000 since November.
The gaunt forest clearings will be “shocking” to some visitors, state parks forest management coordinator Matt Schulz said Wednesday.
“We can’t stop the epidemic that’s spreading so rapidly. But we can work to reduce the potential hazards in heavily visited areas,” said parks director Dean Winstanley.
Parks workers will also target thousands of smaller, weaker trees to thin more than 1,200 acres of land to reduce the threat of forest fires ” a threat aggravated by the dry winter, Schulz said. They’ll supplement the effort with prescribed burns of neighboring meadows and grasslands.
The pine beetle infestation has spread to nearly 2 million acres of forest land in Colorado, especially in the north-central part of the state, the U.S. Forest Service says. Pine beetles burrow to lay eggs, leaving behind a deadly fungus that rots out trees.
“Any tree larger than six inches in diameter is coming out,” Schulz said of infested park areas. Most of these trees are at least 15 feet high and must be chopped down before they fall down and cause injury or destroy property. Chemical spray will be used to treat some “high value” trees, Schulz said.
Crews will plant about 4,000 seedlings, but it will take 20 to 30 years before some of Colorado’s forests look like their old selves again, Schulz said.
The seedlings will be a mix of species. “We’re trying to create a more diverse forest to prevent this thing from happening again. You never want a large area of the same type of trees,” Schulz said.
Federal dollars provided through the Colorado State Forest Service and grants from the nonprofit Great Outdoors Colorado fund tree removal and replanting.
The epidemic began in 1996.
“What really started this outbreak is the dry winters that Colorado’s been having … combined with the overly or unnaturally dense forest,” Schulz said. Modern-day control of forest fires allows forests to grow much thicker, facilitating the transmission of pests.