Low plane over Smuggler turns heads | AspenTimes.com

Low plane over Smuggler turns heads

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – A low-flying airplane that was treating pine trees on Smuggler Mountain early Thursday generated complaints to Aspen and Pitkin County officials from unsuspecting residents.

The aircraft was doing work for a private landowner on Smuggler, spreading verbenone to ward off pine beetle attacks, according to Gary Tennenbaum, land steward for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

Residents on Red Mountain, situated across a narrow gap from Smuggler created by the Hunter Creek Valley, were apparently among those startled by the aircraft about 6:30 a.m.

Calls to the police/sheriff dispatch center were routed to county and county open space officials on the assumption that the local governments were engaged in continuing efforts to halt the spread of the destructive beetles on the Smuggler Open Space. That was not the case, Tennenbaum said.

“They (property owners) had no notice and they had no warning, and they thought they were being crop-dusted,” Tennenbaum said.

City and county officials did not know the aerial application of verbenone was planned, either. A representative for the landowner did not return messages on Thursday.

Tennenbaum said he fielded voice messages left by angry callers. Stephen Ellsperman, parks and open space director for the city, said the half-dozen or so callers who dialed his number weren’t necessarily riled, but had questions.

“It was more in the category of, ‘What the heck is going on?'” Ellsperman said. “I was honestly surprised. I wasn’t aware they were going to do it.”

The verbenone flakes aren’t harmful, and they are biodegradable, according to Tennenbaum. Verbenone is a pheromone that fools adult beetles into leaving healthy trees alone, sending the message that trees are already infested.

It has been in use on the city/county open space on Smuggler, as well, but has been applied in pouches stapled to trees rather than dropped from the sky.

Tennenbaum and Ellsperman said they’re interested in finding out how effective the flakes are, compared to the pouches, and whether an aerial application is less expensive than having people walk the forest floor, stapling pouches to trees and removing them later.

“It’s actually an interesting and effective way to apply it,” Ellsperman said. “I’m interested to hear what the results are.”

“Next year, we might want to think about it – we’ll see what the fallout is from this,” Tennenbaum said.