Officials: Pine beetle infestation has peaked |

Officials: Pine beetle infestation has peaked

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – The pine beetle infestation that has ravaged more than 2.5 million acres of forest in Colorado and Wyoming may be coming to an end.

State and forest officials say the tiny beetle that burrows beneath the bark of pine trees and leaves their needles a sickly red as the tree dies, may be exhausting their food supply.

“I think we’ve seen the worst of it,” said Sky Stephens, Colorado State Forest Service entomologist.

Dense-packed lodgepole pine forests provided the rice-size black bugs ideal conditions, sending their population’s soaring.

After 15 years of such conditions, the beetles are now scrambling for fresh wood.

The beetles “have gotten most of it already. There’s not a lot left,” said Cal Wettstein of the U.S. Forest Service, who is overseeing the agency’s response to the infestation. “What they’ll be doing over the next few years is cleaning up the stragglers.”

While officials say the infestation may be reaching an anti-climatic end, there are still millions of acres of dead trees to deal with.

Forest officials say threats include the risk of catastrophic wildfire, injury and property damage from falling trees and damage to waterways from erosion. Officials say they’ll ramp up their efforts to remove the dead trees in the coming years.

Loggers have cleared thousands of acres of trees killed by the beetles, increasing the amount removed each year. In 2007, 15,500 acres were cleared, while that number has jumped to an expected 52,000 acres this year.

Experts say a diverse forest – lodgepole sprouts, mixed with aspens – provide the best protection against massive beetle damage.

“If (regeneration) doesn’t happen naturally, we’ll be back up here to replant it,” said Ken Cunning, a forest timber sale administrator.

Authorities however are monitoring another threat, that of the spruce beetle that are attacking spruce-tree forests in southern Colorado, Forest Service entomologist Bob Cain said.

With those trees growing at high altitudes in remote parts of the state, Cain worries that that problem will be ignored.

“But because (spruce-beetle damage) is not as in-your-face as the mountain pine beetle, it’s not going to create the political storm that the mountain pine beetle did,” Cain said.

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