Why are the trees red?

JANICE KURBJUNsummit daily news

In the mid-1990s, pine trees near Grand Lake, Colo., started changing color. They turned from green to red, then to brown, then to gray. Years later, the phenomenon has rippled outward from Grand County’s ground zero to include more than 3.6 million acres of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota forests.It was a mountain pine beetle epidemic attacking lodgepole pine trees, researchers soon discovered. But why was this native species infecting so many trees and spreading so fast? U.S. Forest Service spokesman Patrick Thrasher summarized years of speculation, theory, research and conclusion that attributes the epidemic to several factors that created the “perfect storm.”The trees are stressed by drought, Thrasher said. On top of that, much of the forest is the same age – 120 to 150 years old – which is relatively oldfor a lodgepole pine, and older trees aremore susceptible to disease. In addition,recent winters have been warmer thanaverage, meaning the pine beetle populationdoesn’t see the same winter mortalityit has in years’ past. More beetlesmeans more affected trees.Because pine beetles are nativeto Colorado forests, it’s likely that asimilar epidemic took place hundredsof years ago, Thrasher said. But, withmore humans living in and amongstthe forest and forest fi re danger creepinghigher, the pine beetle epidemichas made a national impact.So much dead, dry wood in the forestdrastically increases the likelihoodof fire – hot fi re. In small fi res with lessfuel load, soil can be revitalized. A hotfire can sterilize the soil, preventingrevegatation for years.Other, less obvious, side effectsinclude falling trees in recreationaland work areas. With root decay comeserosion, meaning problems down theline in stream, rivers and reservoirsand the wildlife that depends onthese areas. Denver Water officials areconcerned about sedimentation and itseffects on water quality and quantity.”There’s no silver bullet to deal withit,” Thrasher said, explaining thatthere are many approaches to mitigatingthe pine beetle’s effects. Pesticidesand sprays are available for the individualwho’s willing to spend the time andmoney to apply it on private property.It’s not practical for large-scale application,though, Thrasher said.Communities, such as the Town ofSilverthorne, have passed ordinancesrequiring dead and dying trees beremoved from properties within townlimits. On the outskirts of incorporatedtowns, at the “wildland-urban interface,”public land management agencieswork with property owners to createfire breaks and make homes easy forfire fighting personnel to protect. Suchtactics are called “fire-wise approaches”and include anything from cuttingtrees to ensuring a propane tank isn’t athreat to ensuring the driveway is bigenough for a large vehicle to turn inand escape from.There’s also an effort to increasestand diversity, and in so doing, createnatural barriers to the beetles’ tendencyto tree-hop, Thrasher said. Effortsinclude timber harvesting, thinning,and promoting different vegetation,such as aspen, spruce and fi r growth.Various local, creative efforts arealso in place. Tim Sabo, for instance, isusing beetle kill for wood turning. He’salso among a host of building professionalswho are using beetle kill woodfor flooring, cabinetry, and more. AndMark Mahorney has a business turningdead pine into wood carvings on-site,as well as using the wood for othersmall construction.For more information on the mountain pinebeetle epidemic in Colorado, visit .

The mountain pine beetle continues to negativelyimpact our forests at an alarming rate, butthere are steps Summit County residents can taketo protect their remaining pine trees. Preventivetree spraying has shown results and Beetle Block,a new, eco-friendly product, is something homeownerscan install themselves. Trees that havealready succumbed to the pine beetle shouldbe removed for safety reasons. As homeowners,towns or homeowner’s associations prepare tohire a tree company, there are some significantthings to consider: the importance of hiring alicensed and insured company, and the quality oftheir services.

Hire an experienced, licensed company thathas liability and workmen’s comp insurance. Askto see the company’s liability and workmen’scomp insurance certificate, and if it doesn’tprovide it, consider the liability that might fallon you, the homeowner, if an accident occurswhile employees are on your property. Thesesafeguards are quite expensive, so companieswithout them are able to give you a lower bid,but keep the following in mind:• If an uninsured worker gets hurt on yourproperty or drops a tree on your neighbor’shouse, you may be responsible.• If an unlicensed applicator spills chemicalsthat fi nd their way into your neighborhood’sdrinking water, you may be responsible.• Ask for a copy of your contractor’s commercialapplicators license for spraying.

Truly locally owned companies are more likelyto provide quality services because the long-termsuccess of their business depends on it. In addition,each dollar you spend at an independent,local business returns at least three times moremoney to our local economy than one spentwith a company based out of the community.It is not safe or wise to assume that a companylisted in the Yellow Pages is insured, experienced,customer service-driven or locally owned.All tree companies and bids are not equal, so bea wise consumer and ask questions.

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