In the Garden: Trees and beetles

Anna Naeser
Special to The Aspen Times

Just beyond my property lines to the east and west, like bookends, stand native junipers, one dead, and the other top-killed. I lobbied to keep these trees and both neighbors have left them alone. It helps that neither tree encroaches on their most valued view. In Aspen, a special interest group calling itself For the Forest is lobbying for just the opposite ” to cut down native lodgepole pines infested and killed by native mountain pine beetles, a species of bark beetle. Alas, dead lodgepoles are encroaching on Aspen views; and very, very expensive views they are, too.

The value of a beautiful tree is obvious: It is harder to see the value of a dead one. Nevertheless, a standing dead or dying tree is as lively a place as any healthy tree, colonized by microorganisms and sustaining countless species of insects, birds and other woodland animals.

Protecting individual loved trees in our gardens is one thing. When another native bark beetle, the Ips beetle, was doing to pinon pines all over the West, what mountain pine beetles are doing to lodgepoles, I asked about preventative measures and was told that the best prevention was keeping my pinons healthy. If your trees are adapted to your ecological life zone, given space to mature, and the right amount of regular water, they will thrive. Protected from soil compaction and root disturbance, kept free of smothering mulch mounds, caged against hungry deer, string trimmers and lawn mowers, your garden trees may outlive you.

Protecting stands of trees is another thing. Can we suddenly make them healthy again? Actions always carry unintended consequences. Should we log areas of Smuggler Mountain to protect ourselves from hazards? I bet more trail users everywhere are injured skiing than by falling trees, and wildfire risks depend on many complicated factors. All the methods of beetle control suggested by John Bennett, director of For the Forest, from thinning timber to solarizing under plastic, were tried during the Ips beetle epidemic (except for using the pheromone verbenone to repel beetles). It was futile.

John Bennett, asks with disarming directness “If you can solve the tree problem in your backyard, why not?” I don’t believe you can. Plus, if verbenone works, whose backyard will the beetles go to?

For more information, see:

– Janis Lindsey Huggins, Snowmass Village: Wild at Heart, A Natural History Guide

– U.S. Forest Service Bark Beetle Research in the Western United States: Looking Toward the Future


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