Pine Beetle Talk

There’s been a lot or Press over the last few years, especially the last 12 months, over the devastating impact the mountain pine beetles are having on our region’s landscape. A Denver Post article this week, reported that “Federal and state forestry officials consider, at current rates, mountain pine beetles will kill the majority of Colorado’s large-diameter lodgepole pine forests within three to five years. Officials described the infestation as a “catastrophic event” that has now crossed into Front Range areas.”

This epidemic is all part of nature and the lodgepole pine ecosystem, but warmer winters and the drought of recent years have intensified the problem and created near perfect conditions for the beetles to thrive and spread. Talk of sustained -40° temperatures that could kill off the beetle is, effectively, small talk, as this is most unlikely this will happen. Individuals spaying the trees on their own parcels of land in my opinion may give them an oasis of mature green trees if they keep it up for 15 years, but the environmental impact of all the chemicals and pesticides in the land has not been properly gauged. It can’t be good for the land and our water supply, I know that much.

Ultimately, there is no way to stop the beetles, and it’s likely that the forests will soon mirror those of Yellowstone National Park after fires swept through in 1988. Areas full of dead trees would be susceptible to fires for the next 15 or 20 years. Our visitors – ski vacationers but especially summer tourists – are noticing it too, and either comment knowledgeably, or think that the needles are changing color. It’s obviously less noticeable in winter due to the snow we get ensuring the mountains are swathed in white. When temperatures rise and the sun comes out, the brown is all too evident. Widespread fires are inevitable.

On a micro level, residents who have a significant concentration of lodgepole on their land may be better off letting nature take its course, cutting the dead trees (which is probably all of them, no matter what the diameter), and trusting in natural regeneration as well as planting as many different varieties as possible. Looking at the macro situation, says Jeff Jahnke, Colorado State Forester, “restoring forest health and reducing fire danger across such an expansive area requires an investment in human and financial capital on the part of all stakeholders, including land-management agencies, local communities, private owners, environmental organizations and elected officials in order to be successful.” Absolutely right, but I have not seen the master-plan that puts all this together, and I’m not sure I will.

The face of skiing in the Colorado Rockies though, at some point in he future, will be changed forever, with conditions more akin to “above tree-line skiing in Europe, where our “above tree-line” will be at 9,000 feet, instead of the current 11,500 feet. We are nowhere near to being prepared for this scenario.

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