New Aspen nonprofit works to save lodgepole pines |

New Aspen nonprofit works to save lodgepole pines

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The burgeoning death rate of the state’s lodgepole pines is virtually unstoppable no matter what is done to slow the spread of the mountain pine bark beetle infestation in Colorado, a new nonprofit in Aspen warns.

And the beetle infestation, already visible in the mountains surrounding Aspen, may be hastened by rising temperatures from global warming, said one of the group’s officers.

The group, For The Forest, is helping survey the state’s forests to determine, among other figures, exactly how many lodgepole pines there are in the White River National Forest and around Aspen.

“Our balance of spruce, fir, aspen and lodgepole pine endows our local forests with greater resistance to specific insects and diseases,” says the group’s new website. “Nonetheless, many forest areas around the Roaring Fork Valley … all contain extensive lodgepole pine populations that are now severely endangered.”

The areas include Smuggler Mountain and Hunter Creek, Lenado, the backside and top of Red Mountain, the long ridgeline from Smuggler to the Midway Pass/Lost Man area, Warren Lakes, Mount Sopris, Ruedi, and lower Woody Creek, according to the group.

The infestation of pine beetles began in Canada, according to the For The Forest website, where more than 50,000 square miles of forest have been devastated and from which a sort of biological tidal wave has moved south. In Colorado alone, according to the group’s information, more than 1.7 million acres of lodgepole pines are either already dead or dying because of the infestation.

For The Forest has enlisted the aid of EcoFlight, a service known in some circles as the “environmental air force” that takes interested scientists, bureaucrats, politicians and media representatives on flights over affected areas of the Rocky Mountains. Firm president Bruce Gordon of Aspen said he also has done work surveying a related infestation of the whitebark pine trees in Montana.

The website shows a photo of Aspen Mountain taken from the hillside between Hunter Creek and Van Horn Park; it clearly shows a number of “hot spots” where lodgepole pines already have died and turned red, the last step before a tree loses all of its needles.

The group has a newly appointed executive director in former Aspen Mayor John Bennett and a community advisory board that includes such longtime locals as Tom Cardamone, Mary Conover, Mark Harvey, Howie Mallory, John Katzenberger, John McBride, Harry Teague and Colorado state Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village). Also on the advisory board is local videographer and photographer Greg Poschman, who was hired to produce images as part an educational and informational campaign.

The group’s evolving board of directors currently includes venture capitalist John Doerr, Aspen Institute Vice President Amy Margerum, businessman Jerry Murdock, Dr. William Murray, a professor from California who also serves as For The Forest’s scientific program director, and Bennett.

For The Forest is working with other nonprofit organizations in the region, as well as governments at various levels and the U.S. Forest Service, each of which is providing some level of funding and assistance for the organization’s work, Murray said.

The group is also engaged in private fundraising as it works on both finalizing its mission and putting together the framework of the organization. Sen. Schwartz, for example, was recently added to the advisory board.

Bennett, after an EcoFlight trip over the Gore Range this week, explained that the beetles, which scientists consider to be a naturally occurring pest that has evolved along with the pine forests of the world, have historically been kept at bay by the severely cold winters of the region.

But as global temperatures have risen in recent years, the beetles’ population has exploded, and the insects have laid waste to vast regions.

There are treatments for protecting individual trees from the beetles, and Poschman advised local property owners with lodgepole pines to monitor the trees carefully for bore holes and other telltale signs, cut down infested trees and treat nearby trees as quickly as possible.

Murray said that trees remain green and healthy seemingly for a year after infestation, after which it takes about another year for the tree to turn red, lose its needles and become another standing dead trunk in a growing patch of such standing deadfall.

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