Meet Your Forest: What’s happening with pine beetles in our forests?
Meet Your Forest
Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) is a two-needled pine that grows at elevations as high as 12,000 feet and is well suited to the White River National Forest ecosystem. It is often called Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine. Unfortunately, in Summit County and most of Colorado, lodgepole pines are dying by the thousands because several years of drought have stressed the trees and encouraged infestation by pine beetles.
Lower than normal precipitation affects the ability of trees to fight off the pine beetle. A tree may not die from lack of water, but it becomes more susceptible to insects and, therefore, disease. The mountain pine beetles burrow into the bark of the lodgepole pine. Healthy trees usually have enough water in their systems to produce pitch or sap. This unappealing goo repels the beetles when they attempts to enter the bark. Stressed trees are left with no defense against the beetles. The beetles lay their eggs in the inner bark, and the larvae eat that layer. Additionally, the beetles carry blue-staining fungi, which affects the tree and contributes to its demise.
New growth is essential to sustaining a healthy forest. Naturally occurring wildfires are also a contributing factor to regenerating tree growth. The heat from the fire releases the seeds of pines cones, so the seeds can sprout and build a new forest. Fortunately, there have been few recent wildfires in our campgrounds and our forestlands. That is good news because of the terrible destruction that fire causes. But as a result, there has been little new growth in our forest for nearly 90 years and, consequently, our trees are older and more susceptible to infestation.
WHAT THE FOREST SERVICE IS DOING
The spread of pine beetles in the forests is slowed by physically removing the trees that contain beetle larva. The Dillon Ranger District has contracted with logging companies to cut and remove infested trees. The district is also spraying healthy trees with a chemical that repels beetles. Carbaryl is a non-restricted pesticide commonly used in spraying fruit trees. Spraying this onto the bark of the lodgepole pines can reduce the effects of the beetle.
A healthy forest is important because it has natural resistance to insects and disease. One way the Forest Service maintains forest health is by reducing tree density using both natural and prescribed fire. Logging also helps improve forest health and vigor, reduces fire hazards and encourages new tree growth, which in turn increases the habitat for many varieties of wildlife and plant species. A healthy forest provides the recreation opportunities that we all cherish, along with wood for fuel and building. Trees are a renewable natural resource, which the ranger districts and friends groups such as Friends of the Dillon Ranger District work diligently to preserve.
DOES THIS AFFECT CAMPING?
The shady settings of our campgrounds are changing, as trees affected by the beetles are removed. New large, open areas are created where many trees have died or have been removed. Seedlings are planted so campers can enjoy shade in the future. The Forest Service knows that campers prefer to set up camp under a thick canopy, but trees must be removed now to avoid further damage to the White River National Forest.
The campgrounds and trails may be periodically closed to allow for pine-beetle infested trees to be logged without potential hazard to users. Dead trees are also removed because winds associated with thunderstorms are strong enough to topple them, causing hazards to campers and hikers.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
The Forest Service appreciates your understanding of the changing conditions of the White River National Forest.
Hacking away at living trees for firewood is another way campers and forest users are creating doorways for fungi to enter the trees, which can cause trees to rot and die. In addition, never pound spikes or nails into a tree because when a chainsaw or a lumber mill blade hits a foreign object, the operator could be seriously injured.
You can help keep our forests healthy for generations to come by educating yourself and others. If you are interested in more Summit County forest information, join us at one of our Ski with a Ranger Tours at Keystone every Friday at 11 a.m. through March 27 at the top of the gondola for an hour of skiing with a ranger.
Jasmine Hupcey is the office and volunteer manager for Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the organization and volunteer opportunities, visit http://www.fdrd.org.
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