Forest Service warns even more dead trees falling
June 17, 2010
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Strong wind, recent rain, melting snow and a beetle infestation have become a dangerous combination in the forests of Colorado and Wyoming.
Don’t camp, park or otherwise linger beneath any of the millions of trees killed by bark beetles in recent years, warns the U.S. Forest Service.
The roots of the dead trees have been rotting. Combined with muddy ground and strong wind, that’s bringing down large numbers of trees onto roads, trails and campsites, said Forest Service spokeswoman Mary Ann Chambers.
“You’re looking at a really dangerous situation out there right now,” Chambers said Wednesday. “People really need to be careful.”
A National Weather Service forecast called for gusts up to 80 mph Thursday across southern Wyoming and the Colorado Front Range. A high wind warning was posted for southeastern Wyoming.
Beetles have killed 3.6 million acres of pine trees in Colorado and southern Wyoming, enough dead trees to cover the state of Connecticut. Forest officials estimate that even before the muddy conditions this spring, 100,000 trees a day were falling down in the region.
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The rate lately has been even higher, said Cal Wettstein, Rocky Mountain incident commander for the bark beetle epidemic.
“It’s way more than that,” he said. “It will come in bursts, so to speak.”
Even a falling tree that doesn’t hit you can be a problem.
About 3,700 miles of roads and almost 900 miles of trails need work to remove hazardous trees, Rick Cables, regional head of the U.S. Forest Service, said last week.
About 550 miles of power lines are at risk from falling trees.
A Forest Service press release suggested parking close to main roads and taking a chain saw or ax in case trees block your route.
If winds pick up, move into a clearing. And if you encounter trouble, don’t rely on your cell phone: Many areas in the forests don’t have coverage.
Most campgrounds in the forests have remained open despite the falling trees. Many were cleared of beetle-killed timber previously, although work will continue at several campgrounds this summer.
Forest employees in the backcountry have been leaving notes at tents pitched beneath dead trees, Wettstein said, suggesting that campers move to a safer spot.
“It’s getting quite hazardous out there,” he said.