One way to get a new forest going |

One way to get a new forest going

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyPine beetle-infested trees, such as these along Tigiwon Road south of Minturn, are an already large and growing part of the landscape.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Lodgepole pine trees are more dangerous ” and more worthless ” by the time they hit the ground.

Get ’em while they’re still standing, and they have a little money in them.

The mountain pine beetle is doing its damage much faster than anyone had anticipated. After watching the beetles quickly wipe out much of the forests in Grand County to the northeast, local foresters are recognizing the need to speed up when it comes to clearing out what they can of the dead and dying trees in order to recover some of the costs of growing a new forest.

Move slowly, and you have a lot of missed opportunities, something you see in the piles of decrepit wood in Grand County. The purpose of a new pine beetle mitigation plan ” the Upper Eagle River Beetle Salvage Project ” is to capitalize on still usable wood, keep dead wood off the ground and start growing a new forest.

Within 3 to 5 years of dying, a lodgepole pine is so deteriorated and dry that it can’t be sold as commercial lumber ” you can see this useless wood left on the ground and turned down by loggers in the Williams Fork area, said Jane Burke, a program manager with the U.S. Forest Service.

“If you don’t remove a tree in three to five years, it’s no good at the lumber mill,” said Rick Caissie, a planner with the Sulphur Ranger District. “When they go into the saw, they explode because they’re so dry.”

Those dead trees left behind shed their needles and branches and then fall to the forest floor, contributing to a large and volatile fuel load for fires. The pines, filled with sticky, combustible pitch, make great fuel for wildfires.

Foresters often repeat the mantra “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” in regards to the inevitability of a giant forest fire. It could happen in 5 years or 50, but when it does happen, we’ll lose a large chunk of the White River National Forest.

Cut those trees soon after they’re infected, and the forest service can both add fire breaks to the ready to burn forest and sell those dead trees to recover the high costs of regenerating new ones.

“We want to get the dead trees out, get the new forest going, and capture the value of the wood,” Burke said.

The speed of the pine beetles caught the people of Grand County off guard.

“They didn’t realize the trees were going to fall over so quickly,” said Peech Keller, a National Environmental Policy Act coordinator with the forest service. “We’re trying to get ahead of the ball this time.”

By the textbooks, pine beetles at this altitude kill off maybe 25 percent of the trees, and infestations last about 8 years. The spread of beetles in Grand County was much more aggressive, and Caissie and other foresters there have been warning other ranger districts.

“If we tell somebody how bad it is, they pretty much don’t believe us until we show them,” Caissie said . “It’s totally outside of the scope of what should be happening.”

While a great majority of the forest will go untreated, the places that can be reached need to be done so quickly and aggressively, Burke said.

“We are trying to learn what Grand County has learned ahead of us and build on what they’ve learned the hard way,” Burke said.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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