Ritter: Pine beetles altering Colorado

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Pine trees killed by beetles are shown in their rusty red color near Grandby, Colo., in this undated aerial photo provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. With beetle-infested trees threatening to fuel wildfires and keep tourists away, the state and federal governments are stepping up efforts to thin out bug-killed trees with their telltale rusty colored needles. (AP Photo/Colorado State Forest Service,Jen Chase)
AP | Colorado State Forest Service

CENTENNIAL, Colo. ” Gov. Bill Ritter said Wednesday that the pine beetle epidemic that has killed nearly half of the state’s lodgepole pine trees will have an “impact for generations to come” and will change the look of Colorado’s forests.

After getting a look at stands of dead trees from the air, Ritter said the outbreak is part of a natural cycle that has been encouraged by the drought, milder winters and the fact there are so many clusters of the same type and age of tree that are attractive to the beetles.

He said the epidemic can’t be stopped, only managed to reduce the risk of wildfires. That will change the look of Colorado’s forests as more pine trees die and are replaced with new ones.

“It’s part of a natural cycle that our kids and grandkids will probably experience,” Ritter said, after the flyover of Evergreen, Kremmling, Vail, Breckenridge and Cheesman Reservoir with state and federal land managers.

Ritter praised ski resorts for working to keep the bugs at bay by spraying insecticide on trees along their borders.

With respraying necessary every two years, he acknowledged that the work is beyond the means of many homeowners. Still, he urged people who live in forests to do their part to clear trees and brush from near their homes to reduce their exposure to wildfires.

“Private landowners who decide to build in a place that causes them to be somewhat vulnerable have some responsibility,” Ritter said.

This year, the state is getting involved in efforts to thin out the trees attacked by pine beetles. It will spend $1 million in matching funds to help local projects to remove those trees, especially those near watersheds. That’s to help prevent wildfires from triggering erosion and from dropping ash in rivers and reservoirs.

About 44 percent of the state’s 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine are now infested by beetles, or about 660,000 acres.

With all but 100,000 acres of the dead trees on federal land, the bulk of the thinning falls to the U.S. Forest Service, which plans to treat 18,000 acres of dead trees this year. Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables said he wishes the agency could do more, but he did note that Colorado’s congressional delegation won $2 million more in funding last year for these projects.

Cables said the agency has to focus on trees near where people live.

“We can’t stop the bugs in a macro way, but we can try to protect the most valuable resources,” he said.

Cables said it’s possible that this year the state could reach 1 million acres of infected trees.