Vail’s tree troubles can’t be sprayed away
Some of The problems
• Spraying for pine beetles may have inadvertently killed beneficial bugs.
• Scale beetles and aphids are also attacking spruce and aspen trees.
• Spraying too close to Gore Creek can affect water quality.
• Trees planted too close together allows insects to more easily affect a large number of plants.
VAIL — Trees are a big part of Vail, from neighborhoods to parks to the resort villages. But many of those trees are in trouble.
Over the past few years, town officials have taken perhaps 100 dead and dying trees from around Vail’s parking structures. The town this year will spray roughly 2,400 trees to fight bugs and diseases. And that’s just on public property.
“(Over the past couple of seasons) we’ve realized there’s a lot of not-so-good things going on with our trees,” town parks and recreational facilities specialist Gregg Barrie told the Vail Town Council. “A lot of trees seem to be dying, and we’re not sure what’s causing it.”
Barrie, along with Paul Cada, the Vail Fire Department’s wildfire specialist, Tuesday talked to the council about the state of the town’s trees, and also asked for permission to hire a private firm to conduct a comprehensive survey to determine how many trees might be affected. The next step would be creating a strategy to save the trees that can be saved and plan for a healthier future for the next trees planted.
Barrie told the council that part of the future solution is creating a more diverse population of trees in town.
“We’ve been planting blue spruce like hedges,” Barrie said. Those trees are also planted close enough to each other that it’s easy for bugs and diseases to move from pine to pine or spruce to spruce.
“We need to be encouraging biodiversity,” Barrie said. “A bug will ravage a (tree) population and biodiversity can help control that.”
Cada, a former employee of the Colorado Forest Service and a certified arborist, said the extent of scale beetle infestation in town was a surprise.
“I had no idea the problem here is as bad as it is,” Cada said.
While pine, spruce and scale beetles are all related, all respond to different kinds of spraying. In the case of the growing scale beetle infestation, previous spraying for pine beetles may have helped encourage the growth of the scale bugs.
“General spraying kills both bad and good bugs,” Cada said. With those good bugs, scale beetles are usually under control. Without them, more trees are imperiled.”
At this point, Cada said there are thousands of trees in town “heavily infected” by scale beetles.
TREES OUTSIDE OF TOWN
The story is different outside of town, in the thousands of acres of national forest surrounding Vail.
Aaron Mayville, the deputy district ranger for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger Districts, said the overall health of the forest is good. The pine beetle infestation remains, but the worst of the damage has been done. And while spruce beetles are starting to show up in Vail, they haven’t shown up in large numbers in the surrounding forests.
Mayville said the biggest current threat to the national forest around Vail is “fuel loading” from already-killed trees. That problem has federal and town officials, along with Vail Resorts, working to remove those dead trees from the area bordering the forest and town.
While the national forests still have too many trees of roughly the same age — one of the biggest factors in the pine beetle epidemic — Mayville agreed with Barrie’s assessment that a broader variety of plant species is a healthy thing for wooded areas both wild and domestic.
Getting to that point will be difficult.
In the forests, land managers are dealing with a century of well-intentioned but misguided management that put out virtually every fire.
In towns, managers need to deal both with existing infestations and plan for a healthier future. That job is further complicated by the need to keep pesticides and other chemicals out of streams.
Near Gore Creek, insect-control methods have ranged from spraying to injecting pesticides into the ground — which trees absorb, killing attacking insects. Some control methods also inject pesticides directly into trees, a labor-intensive, expensive way to control bugs.
The tree survey for Vail will be costly, too — $50,000 to $100,000, depending on what town officials want to learn.
Getting information on individual trees could cost between $1 and $3 per tree, Cada said. On the other hand, the town’s now spending about $50,000 per year on spraying.
The idea, Cada said, is to map a course from here.
“We’ve been reactionary so far (spraying for bugs and removing dead trees),” Cada said. “We don’t have a view of the future.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.