Despite beetle threat, Aspen-area avy debris to remain |

Despite beetle threat, Aspen-area avy debris to remain

Staff report
Crews work to clear downed aspen trees from the Conundrum slide.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times | Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times

The U.S. Forest Service has no plans to remove or otherwise mitigate avalanche debris in the Aspen area despite fears that it might attract bark beetles, an official said last week.

“I understand from entomologists that blown-down spruce trees are the perfect breeding ground for spruce beetles,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor. “It’s definitely a concern, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

The massive snowpack this winter — which is still thick in the high country around Aspen — caused major avalanches throughout the area and the state. Fitzwilliams called it a once-in-300-years event.

“None of us will be around for the next one,” he said.

The snowpack caused slides in places no one has seen slide before, including a spot about a mile up Pearl Pass Road at the back of the Castle Creek Valley. An avalanche there tore a big hole through old-growth spruce, snapping 100-foot-tall trees and closing the road indefinitely.

Many spots in the state mirror Pearl Pass Road. And while numerous aspen also came down, it’s the spruce trees that are most worrisome when it comes to beetles, Fitzwilliams said.

The Rio Grande and Gunnison national forests suffered large spruce tree losses in recent years because of the spruce beetle, he said, though the infestation was not likely caused by avalanche debris.

“Unfortunately, our strategy with the spruce beetle is hope,” Fitzwilliams said.

The Forest Service will identify avalanche areas in the fall for public firewood gathering, which will be available with a permit, Fitzwilliams said.