Pine beetle slowing in Eagle County? |

Pine beetle slowing in Eagle County?

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Flying over Eagle County in airplanes this summer, foresters actually counted 11,881 fewer acres of rust-colored, pine-beetle infested trees than in 2006.

Fewer? In Eagle County?

The pine beetle epidemic, first seen in Colorado forests in 1996, grew by half a million acres in 2007 and has infested 1.5 million acres of trees throughout the state. In Eagle County though, the spread of the infestation could be slowing down.

While trees will continue to shed their needles, die and fall to the ground, the beetles could be running out of their preferred food ” large-trunked lodgepole pines as opposed to smaller, skinnier lodgepoles, said Bob Cain, an entomologist with the United States Forest Service.

“A lot of the suitable trees for pine beetles have already been killed,” Cain said.

When foresters are counting infested trees in the summer, they’re counting those faded red trees where the pine beetle is active and feeding. They don’t count the dead and gray trees, which are now making up more and more of the forests in Eagle County.

“Eagle County was one of the first areas really impacted,” Cain said. “Now there’s quite a bit of gray.”

While there were about fewer acres of red trees spotted in 2007, there were still in abundance ” about 48,500 acres.

“There are still plenty of beetles out there. They’re still very active and will be persistent,” Cain said.

It’s also possible work to remove dead and dying trees in the Vail area could have affected the numbers, said Mary Ann Chambers, a public affairs specialist with the Forest Service.

The town of Vail, partnered with the Forest Service and Eagle County, removed around 8,000 pine trees surrounding the town this summer, while private groups like Cordillera removed around 12,000 trees.

It’s still important for people to be vigilant in spraying trees and for the Forest Service to continue to remove trees, Cain said. The fire danger will be there for years.

Infested pine trees, after turning that distinct rust color, shed their needles and branches then fall to the forest floor, contributing to a large and fire-prone fuel load. The pines, filled with sticky, combustible pitch, make great kindling for wildfires and are dangerous to residents and buildings, especially those near the forests’ edge.

With a high number of dead and dying lodgepole pines in the county, foresters are looking to be more aggressive in 2008 by clearing the troubled trees to both reduce the fire danger and make a little money.

The purpose of a new pine beetle 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 three to five years of dying, a lodgepole pine is so deteriorated and dry that it can’t be sold as commercial lumber. Cut those trees soon after they’re infected, and the Forest Service can lessen the fire danger in the ready-to-burn forest and sell those dead trees to recover the high costs of regenerating new ones.

According to the plan, crews will clear 2,300 acres of trees around Indian Creek north of Vail, and the West Grouse, Tigiwon and Yoder areas south of Minturn along Highway 24.

Unlike the forest health project that has routinely cleared trees around Vail to slow fire danger, this pine beetle project isn’t aimed at people’s backyards and protecting urban areas. This one goes a little deeper into the forest and follows a few popular hiking trails.

Hoping to recover the cost of the work, the Forest Service chose areas that have more recently infested trees so they can be sold as lumber. To speed up the process, they’ll only be going into areas close to roads so new ones won’t have to be built.

Removing these trees will also help new and healthy pine trees grow by keeping the forest floor cleared. It will also promote the growth of aspen, which are naturally fire resistant, says the Forest Service.

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

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