Trees’ magic can turn black
Maybe we’ll have another Dylan song soon. You know: “Where have all the trees gone?” Something like that.The pine beetles munching away Vail’s lodgepole, spruce beetle having their meals, a beetle it seems for every species. What the beetles don’t get, something else does. A mystery killer has laid siege to the aspen around here, too.The dam beaver took out most of the cottonwoods around the pond before my family moved into our new home on Eby Creek a few years ago.The war didn’t begin in earnest until they finished the job on a two-hug-around tree after pulling down its chickenwire skirt one night in October 2004. Eventually, the toothy beasts moved on, the pond drained, and I burned their lodge with revenge in my heart.I like trees.I like everything about them. I wouldn’t live here without them.They fill my dreams. They make the mountains magical. They smell better than anything. I can’t imagine a sweeter sound than the wind playing through them. Almost nothing thrills me more than the chill hiking in them during late fall. I’m still too chicken to snowboard through them the way my kids do.They are what make the wild places wilderness for me. They are the art in a landscape painting or photograph. I love bonsai for the sculpting of a tree out of what was just a bush.What are woods and forests without the trees? That’s not a philosophical question any more. I’m Vail centric, noticing the gray growing greater and greater amid the green, hearing that the pine mortality might reach nine of 10 trees. Then there’s the spruce bug, and the mystery ailment assaulting the aspen.But this is happening everywhere in the West, and it’s worse in neighboring Summit and Grand counties.The Flattop’s Trapper’s Lake, at the heart of America’s first designated wilderness area, is surrounded not by a forest but a graveyard as far as the eye can see. Bugs, and finally fire in 2002 burned so hot it seared the soil as well as torching 23,000 acres of timber. The ground remains black against the gray tombstones through much of that “wilderness.” I suppose it’s natural, after a fashion.Man merely abetted the thick growth by doing such a good job putting out wildfires for the past century or so. Nature’s insurgents came in the form of bark beetles. Behind the beetles, eventually, at a time and place of Her choosing, Mother Nature brings fire. Wonderfully cleansing fire. The longer the forest has been let go, well, the hotter the fire that scrubs it clean, and the longer before trees grow back.That’s fine for Trapper’s Lake, stunning in its own way. But what of Vail?Forget the economy. Forget the renaissance, new dawn, front door, billion dollar renewal. Forget even the snow. What about the trees?How many visitors will come when the lovely green turns into a sea of snags?So I do worry that the magic of the trees will turn black. We should be far more aggressive about protecting the view around Vail, if for no more enlightened reason than our own economic health. After all, the forest will recover, or change as it will, just not to please humans or in our time. Mother Nature doesn’t care a whit whether I prefer trees to scrub, or green trees to dead ones. But I’ll wager that this will matter to a New Yorker or European weighing Vail against the rest of the world for vacation, skiing or otherwise. And that would change everything. Everything.Housing would get cheaper, though. The population boom would abate. Development fever would cool. The labor shortage would turn to a scramble for work. We’d shrink to fit a second- or third-tier resort “experience.” There still would be some great skiing, after all, even if the surroundings became butt ugly. No doubt I’m exaggerating. Probably let fear get the best of me. Imagined the worst. Surely I’m wrong worrying about the damn trees, of all things.Just don’t count your profits while the beetles and whatever is killing the aspen keep the upper hand, setting up fuel for that inevitable great, cleansing fire.Meantime we do little more than trim a little here and there, explain how expensive truly aggressive action would be, and shrug.Just trees, after all. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or email@example.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOGVail, Colorado
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