Bugs lead to fires in ‘overmature’ forests
EAGLE COUNTY ” All across the Rockies, which stretch from Canada to Mexico, there is an unprecedented amount of beetles munching through all kinds of coniferous trees. It’s not just mountain pine beetles, said Roy Mask, a U.S. Forest Service entomologist based in Gunnison.
“All of the Rocky Mountains are incurring an unprecedented epidemic of pine bark beetles of all kinds,” he said. In Colorado alone there are hundreds of thousands of acres of dead trees.
“The outbreak is going on a very large scale,” Mask said.
At lower elevations beetles are attacking pinons, and at higher elevations there is an epidemic of beetles munching on ponderosa, lodgepole, spruce and fir. The Forest Service tallies the number of trees killed by beetles by aerial survey, and the latest results are still being tallied, Mask said.
The reason is a forest out of balance with too many “overmature” trees beyond their prime. This, in turn, makes the forests too dense and susceptible to beetle attacks, he said.
All that dead timber intensifies fire danger because the dead trees burn hotter, causing larger more intense fires, he said.
“Green lodgepoles will burn, but dead trees burn hotter and the potential for starting fires is greater,” Mask said. “It burns more intensely.”
If there is one good thing about the beetles, they literally can eat themselves out of trees and end the epidemic, he said. That usually takes about a decade, he added.
“If history repeats itself,” Mask said, “the Vail-area beetle activity will begin to taper off, but other areas to the west will pick up.”
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