National team to help manage Colorado’s bark beetle problem
DENVER – A national team will help the U.S. Forest Service manage the attack against the pine beetle infestation that has swept through about 2.5 million acres of forests in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.
Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables said Thursday that the team will help coordinate efforts to address the safety concerns and wildfire threat posed by large swaths of beetle-killed trees.
“This is an elite seven-member professional team with incident management as their primary focus,” Cables said. “Their experience and expertise will bolster our efforts during this critical time.”
The National Incident Management Organization will coordinate activities in the heaviest-hit forests in the region: the Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapahoe and Roosevelt and White River.
Some area campgrounds have been temporarily closed because of falling trees.
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Forest Service spokeswoman Mary Ann Chambers said the agency is concerned about trees toppling the 550 miles of power lines in the area and the stands of dead trees fueling wildfires.
The beetles burrow into the trees and lay eggs, eventually killing the trees. The bugs have infested forests in some of the region’s most scenic areas, including Colorado mountain resorts and near Rocky Mountain National Park.
While bark beetle infestations are considered part of natural cycles, experts say drought and warmer temperatures are worsening the current outbreak. The region hasn’t had prolonged freezing temperatures that would help kill the bugs, and drought has weakened the trees.
Cables testified before a U.S. House panel in June that water supplies for 33 million people in the West could be endangered if millions of acres of beetle-devastated trees catch fire. The Colorado River headwaters are in some of the most ravaged areas.
Chambers said the epidemic, which started in some spots more than a decade ago, has spread east to areas along Colorado’s Front Range. She said results of a new aerial survey of forests will be released in January.
Other Western states with beetle infestations are Idaho, Montana, Oregon and eastern Washington. More than 30 million acres have been affected in western Canada.