Smuggler Mountain beetle fight a success or failure? | AspenTimes.com

Smuggler Mountain beetle fight a success or failure?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy For the ForestA photo of Smuggler Mountain, flanking Aspen, shows the telltale signs of beetle kill - red, dead lodgepole pines.

ASPEN – Local forest observers will have to wait until autumn before they know whether an experimental effort to halt the spread of mountain pine beetles Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain had the desired effect.

They also have to figure out exactly what outcome will constitute a success.

“It’ll be very interesting to see what happens,” said Gary Tennenbaum, land steward with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program. “We just have no idea what we’re going to find.”

Pitkin County commissioners and the Aspen City Council are slated to hear an update on the Smuggler project Tuesday, but only time will tell the real story, according to Tennenbaum.

The two governments, along with local conservation group For the Forest, funded a joint effort to remove 202 lodgepole pines infested with beetle larvae from city/county open space on Smuggler. The work, including airlifting felled trees to a central site on the mountain with the use of a helicopter, was done in late June and early July – apparently in time to get the problem trees off the mountain before the adult beetles flew off to lay their eggs in new trees, he said.

“I think we definitely got it in time, and I think we got the verbenone up in time,” Tennenbaum said.

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In conjunction with the tree cutting, packets of verbenone were stapled to 3,900 trees, spaced every 40 feet, in roughly a 130-acre area. Verbenone is a pheremone that fools adult beetles into leaving healthy trees alone, sending the message that trees are already infested.

However, Tennenbaum said the verbenone contractor reported that new lodgepoles on the Smuggler open space had been attacked by pine beetles. Those infestations haven’t been confirmed, he said.

“We know trees are going to get hit,” he said.

In late September and early October, local officials working with forestry consultants will examine all of the lodgepole pines in the targeted open space area in search of newly infested trees. Trees on adjacent Forest Service and private lands also need to be examined in order to make a comparison between the area where the experiment occurred and an area where nature was allowed to take its course, he said.

A monitoring plan for Smuggler is in the works, and officials must decide what level of new infestation on the open space, assuming there is one, constitutes the success or failure of this year’s project, Tennenbaum said.

“The monitoring is going to tell us what we’re going to do next year,” he said.

Mountain pine beetles kill their host trees and have left dead, rust-colored trees over large swaths of Colorado.

janet@aspentimes.com