John Bennett: Guest Opinion
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The mountain pine beetle epidemic that devastated 50,000 square miles of forests in British Columbia and more than 2 million acres in Colorado has arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley. Red and dead patches of lodgepole pine are appearing around Smuggler Mountain, the base of Mount Sopris, the upper Fryingpan, Basalt Mountain, parts of Maroon Creek, etc.
While Smuggler Mountain enjoys a diverse population of aspens, pines, firs and spruce, lodgepole pines are nonetheless the dominant species in many areas of Smuggler; and, if we do nothing, they will likely suffer the same fate as other pines in Colorado.
Dead forests present a number of human challenges, particularly in the wildland/urban interface. Threats from falling trees and intense wildfires increase, requiring removal of dead trees and other defensive actions in recreation areas. (Vail removed 7,000 dead trees from its ski mountain last fall.) Hazard tree dangers have recently forced the closure of popular trails and campsites in other parts of Colorado. On Smuggler Mountain, a dramatic increase in beetle-killed trees could increase fuel loading and wildfire danger and pose serious safety hazards to the popular roads and trails in Aspen’s backyard.
For The Forest is proposing a collaboration with the city of Aspen and Pitkin County to safeguard Smuggler Open Space roads and trails and reduce tree mortality caused by the pine beetle epidemic. Our proposal contains two integrated parts:
– Selectively removing dead and dying hazard trees from within 150 feet of roads and trails.
– Applying verbenone, a natural pine beetle pheromone, to lodgepole pine areas of the property.
Selective removal of dead and dying trees from roads and trails addresses obvious safety concerns, and it could also save many healthy adjacent trees from infection. When the beetles’ flight season arrives in July, beetles from each infested tree can infect five new trees. This geometric growth rate has fueled the epidemic’s lightning spread across Colorado.
Verbenone is the beetles’ own “no vacancy” sign. Female beetles use it to steer other beetles away from already infested trees, and it has proven effective in protecting pine trees when used in a well-planned, integrated approach. Verbenone is also safe ” it’s used in herbal teas and aromatherapy products. Note that our proposal does not call for building any new roads, “logging Smuggler Mountain” or major improvements to Smuggler Road. We’re simply urging a commonsense approach to protect the area for hikers and bikers and sustain the mountain’s natural beauty, which is so enjoyed by our residents and visitors.
Acting now, before the beetles’ flight season in July, makes good sense. Our interim stewardship proposal matches the urgency of the situation by protecting trails and promoting forest health in the short term, while the city and county can work out a more comprehensive plan for the longer term.
Removing dead trees along Smuggler trails and roads will become necessary sooner or later, no matter what. Being proactive today reflects wise stewardship, and it could save a great amount of time, effort and expense later. If we delay for a year, the community may face the necessity of a much larger salvage logging operation for dead-tree removal in future years. The problem won’t go away by itself.
The Aspen City Council will consider our stewardship proposal today; the Pitkin County Commissioners consider it on May 19; and the city/county open space boards review it on May 22. You can see the full details of our stewardship proposal at http://www.ForTheForest.org.
If you like the plan and wish to be involved, consider e-mailing our elected leaders to share your support. Hopefully, this is an idea our community can back with little controversy. After all, all it would do is increase the safety of roads and trails, maintain the scenic beauty of these corridors and reduce wildfire danger in this highly valued public recreation area.