Breck awaits perfect storm of drought, pine beetles |

Breck awaits perfect storm of drought, pine beetles

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Death is well-nigh upon this stand of lodgepole pine near Farmer's Korner after a pine beetle infestation has jumped from tree to tree and now is killing large stands in the forest.

BRECKENRIDGE – Town officials hope they are not in the face of the perfect storm in the form of a drought followed by a pine beetle infestation.

“We’ve got to be on top of these things,” Mayor Sam Mamula said.

Mountain pine beetles are a natural component of the ecosystem in Summit County, but periodically, they can take hold in unhealthy stands of pine trees, leaving in their path a swath of dead, reddish-brown trees.

Most of Summit County’s forests are of the same age, making them prone to disease, insect infestation and forest fire.

Pine beetles attack older or stressed stands of trees that can’t fight off the infestation as easily as younger trees in the area.

The beetles bore through the soft bark of the tree to the cambrium underneath; the tree fights back by trying to engulf the bug in sap. Pine beetles take the sawdust from the tunnels they bore, mix it with the sap and push it out the hole, creating pitch tubes – the first indication that a tree is infected.

Once a pine beetle has made inroads in the tree, the tree quickly dies because it cannot obtain nutrients. However, the effects of that death – the golden needles – aren’t visible for a year.

The area with the worst infestation in Summit County is on Ute Pass, where dead trees blanket the hillsides. The trees surrounding Frisco also are infested, as is a stand of Ponderosa pine trees near the landfill between Summit Cove and Keystone.

But they’re making their way south, and the town leaders don’t want the voracious bugs to consume the forest backdrop the town has tried so hard to protect.

Pine beetles have been found in isolated areas in The Highlands, and homeowners are working with developers to identify and monitor trees in those pockets.

Developer Don Nilsson said he plans to resurvey those areas this fall.

“It could easily reach the point where we’re fighting a losing battle,” he said. “It can be as devastating as a forest fire. We might not win the battle. The only thing we can do is keep track of hot spots and concentrate on those areas.”

Homeowner Robin Theobald also found the first beetle-hit tree on his property last fall, cut it down and debarked it.

Other methods involve chipping or incinerating them, but equipment costs are often prohibitive.

Other ways include cutting down the trees and wrapping them to kill the bugs or spraying the cut trees. A sustained cold snap of about 20 below zero for at least two weeks can also kill the bugs in their tracks.

Annual spray treatments for healthy trees are also available at a cost of $12 to $15 a tree.

Former mayor Steve West noted that local arborists are already overwhelmed with work, and a project of this size, would easily take more contractors than the county has.

According to Josh Child of Summit Landscaping, the job could easily prove to be overwhelming.

“It’s a losing battle to save the entire forest,” he said. “You would have to prioritize what you want to save in town.”

Dan Bell of the town public works department agreed.

“We can protect ourselves from the inside out, protect a few key trees,” he said, “but if we get a huge wave of pine beetles from the national forest, that’s a pretty tough thing to make a dent in.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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