Beetle infestation worries some residents |

Beetle infestation worries some residents


DENVER ” Beneath deep snow across the high Rockies lies in wait a bug not much bigger than an eyelash that poses one of the most devastating threats to forests in decades.

“We’ve been here 30 years. … This is the worst ever,” said Ken Fosha of the Drowsy Water Ranch in a scenic valley near the Continental Divide about 60 miles northwest of Denver.

To some degree, it will hurt business, Fosha said, noting that guests last summer commented about the red-and-brown trees and said they may look for other vacation spots. Other area businesses report a drop in reservations for special events such as mountain weddings.

Three miles east of Cooke City, Mont., near Yellowstone National Park, Skyline Guest Ranch co-owner Liz Jackson has watched crews logging trees in a nearby basin to try to control the outbreak. “It really looks sad,” she said. “If you were based in that area, it would have huge impact.”

Various species of beetles have thrived in recent decades because of warmer winters that allow more insects to live amid aging trees in crowded forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The first signs of Colorado’s current outbreak were reported in 1996. A 2007 survey showed the beetles have chewed into lodgepole pine trees across 1.5 million acres and have begun to spread east across the Continental Divide along the Front Range of the Rockies, home to metropolitan Denver.

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Forest Service officials predict that most of the state’s lodgepole pine trees ” the predominant pine at higher elevations ” will be killed within five years.

“We’re seeing an entire forest die before our very eyes,” said Gary Severson, 60, of Frisco, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Regional Council of Governments. “I’ve been dealing with bark beetles for a long, long time, and I’ve never seen anything this big.”

In nearby Winter Park, real estate agent Katie Riemenschneider of Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties said the logging has opened up more sunlight and spectacular vistas on some properties previously enveloped by trees.

Prospective buyers these days also consider the cost of tree removal. For example, companies charge about $15 per tree for pesticide spraying, and from roughly $60 to $80 a tree, she said.

“It’s nature’s way. It is what it is because it’s been given to us and we’re dealing with it,” she said. “In five-plus years, it’s going to be beautiful forests.”