Senator Mark Udall, one of Washington's staunchest boosters of the mitigation effort, recently announced that it could take twenty years for the Forest Service to complete its removal goals at current funding levels. The 2012 Farm Bill currently moving through Congress designates $100 million for beetle mitigation programs; Udall and other western senators are pushing for double that amount.

Wettstein notes that the removal projects are just the first phase of a plan to ultimately bring the forests back to robust health by introducing diversity in age class and tree species, using prescribed burns, thinning and other techniques to make the pines more resistant to large-scale infestation. "We know the best thing we can do for these landscapes is to introduce diversity," he says. "We're looking at building recovery and resiliency, and we're looking long-term."

In the short term, the sprawling hills of dead wood might seem to present a range of entrepreneurial opportunities for loggers, biomass and wood-pellet firms, beetle-kill furniture manufacturers and others. But supply has far outstripped demand; even with the Forest Service entering into "stewardship contracts" with private companies and paying them to haul felled trees away, the agency is still faced with tons of surplus pine that will have to be simply slashed and burned.

"The timing was unfortunate, given lumber markets and the meltdown of the housing industry," says Wettstein. "Lodgepole isn't the most valued construction material, anyway. You're dealing with a marginally valued product to start with, and that exacerbates the difficulty in moving wood."

Some industry observers say the government hasn't done enough to prop up ailing saw mills and cut through the paperwork of stewardship arrangements. At times the recent "field hearings" hosted by Representative Tipton played like a referendum on opening up the national forests to the private sector, with Tipton himself decrying "the devastating impact that decades of federal obstruction to effective management have had on Colorado's once-healthy forests. Dead timber, lost jobs, contaminated water, and landscapes eviscerated by catastrophic wildfire are hallmarks of a bureaucratic process that places politics and inaction ahead of common sense and conservation."

But Wettstein says that more active management would have had little effect on the current epidemic: "When you look at what's mechanically treatable across the impacted area, it's only 25 or 30 percent. You've got wilderness areas, roadless areas, areas that are too steep or inaccessible to do active timber management. If the Forest Service had been aggressively treating lodgepole stands, regenerating mature stands to prevent them from becoming beetle fodder, we still would have had this epidemic. It might have been tempered in 30 percent of the area, but we'd still have it."

Slide show: Meet the beetles: How Colorado's forests are bugging out

Mitton agrees. "Between here and the Yukon Territory, there have been various management styles — including no management at all," he says. "Yet the bark beetle is hitting all of them. This is a consequence of increases in temperature. The Forest Service didn't cause that. Climate change caused that."

The vast majority of the dead trees included in Wettstein's calculations are in the backcountry, where the risk to human safety is negligible. The Forest Service is concentrating its efforts on more accessible hazards. But if 100,000 trees fall in the woods and nobody's around, what should be done about it?

As little as possible, Chad Hanson insists. The John Muir Project director has written extensively on the value of large dead trees and fire-ravaged areas in shaping new wildlife habitat and eventually regenerating forests. The newly opened canopy allows flowering shrubs and aspen to thrive. Colorful songbirds arrive and take up residence in nest holes in dead trees, holes colonized by woodpeckers that come to feast on bark beetles. Small mammals, including hares and woodrats, create dens in downed logs, followed by their predators.

"A dead tree supports a lot more life than a live tree of the same size," Hanson declares. "Snag forest habitat — where most or all of the trees have been recently killed by natural processes — is some of the most ecologically important and biodiverse forest habitat we have in the West."

Hanson doesn't take issue with clearing campgrounds or removing dead trees and other fire hazards in the immediate vicinity of mountain homes. But his own research and another scientific study indicate that, contrary to popular myth and Forest Service gospel, beetle-killed trees aren't more susceptible to fire than dry green trees. "A lot of the results in wildfire studies seem counterintuitive until you understand them," he says. "There are some volatile oils in live needles that enhance combustibility. Once the tree dies and the needles start to fall, there's not as much foliar fuel."

From his viewpoint, much of the government's response to the beetle outbreak is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. "What they're really arguing for is opening these remote areas for more logging," he says, "ostensibly to protect them from beetles and fires. But the projects they're proposing would kill far more trees with chainsaws than their own science indicates would be killed by beetles and fires."

******

On a June morning, while the plume of the High Park fire looms over Fort Collins and the smell of woodsmoke wafts all the way to Denver, Jeff Mitton wanders through towering stands of lodgepole and limber pine along Niwot Ridge beneath an untroubled blue sky. He checks traps for beetles and occasionally uses a small hatchet to pry off a piece of bark, in search of new arrivals.

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21 comments
Leola
Leola

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Henderson
Henderson

Please read the article in full. Your comment is off the mark

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Leola

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Now   Pow
Now Pow

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Leola
Leola

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Gielsj
Gielsj

This isn't the only study on these, and it has been shown that winters are not cold enough to kill off these bugs

Anthony Beretta
Anthony Beretta

Unless the tree is dead that it can freeze easily. I've seen DEAD wood freeze yearly in the mountains of northern new mexico. So that's why I don't think temperature has a lot to do with this problem.

Bobbert
Bobbert

Nice fixation, Ranger. Lack of forest diversity? Somewhat. Lack of water? Definitely. Longer warm season? Yes. That's what I took from the experts. And experts in Entomology/Forestry are going to be as excited about their subject going up in a mainstream paper as you suggest I am about it. So, I'm not sure which of the indifferent, "who cares" comments you see coming from an expert, or anyone with a degree in this stuff.

Swampfoxcws
Swampfoxcws

So....errr...I suppose the fact that we have not allowed a fire-dependent forest to burn for a hundred years had nothing to do with it? And this climate change thing - what is the climate supposed to be doing? Staying the same? Getting colder? What? We are generally coming out of an ice age, so it is not astounding to me that the climate is getting warmer. Al Gore is making a lot of money on this deal, with his carbon footprint of a thousand city people!

Bob
Bob

Holy long-winded crapology.

Bobbert
Bobbert

Grower: I am absolutely positive that there are other researchers looking for generations of the insects of their choice. I don't doubt that every insect is a major concern of yours as a grower. However, its BS suggesting there is no story (as Phd and others suggested) in the fact that pine beetles have been observed flying for the FIRST time in the Colorado high country in May during a drought which has weakened tree defenses, setting this whole situation up as a potential epidemic...that's a story I am glad is being reported. Regardless of what the other insects are up to. Westword runs gossip pieces and bullshit blogs constantly and no one comments. But here we get a long story that hasn't been regurgitated a billion times, and people are dissing the fact that it was even reported because a small part of the story doesn't jive with their opinion on the narrowest little subject that they know anything about. I stand by my fucking point.

JB
JB

I remember as a kid seeing all the beetle kill trees that were cut down, sprayed, and wrapped in plastic to control their spreading. You could see them on the way up the canyon to Central city on the mountainsides. If this has stopped, the question should be WHY??????

Oliver Philip
Oliver Philip

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Grower
Grower

Ask any farmer and they will agree warm winters increase the yearly chances for multi generations of insects. Are you on the peer review for this article? They plan for this. I agree this is common knowledge. Further, if I planted the same corp every year during an increase of annual multi generation, or single generation, of damaging insects I would be out of business. The lack of forest diversity is the cause and the effect. Climate fluctuations ehances lack of forethought in forest management - the real cause. Examing different type of insects and multi generations of seasonal hatching proves that pine beetles are not exclusive and climate fluctuation increases are in fact common knowledge. Defending someone's thesis, in this case, proves your lack of understanding the "whole fucking point."

James Reynolds
James Reynolds

Dead fuel accumulating for the past 15+ years. Fires take off like hot cakes. You do the science.

Bobbert
Bobbert

Phd: Early beetle flights resulting in 2 generations per year, instead of 1 is not common knowledge. In fact, it goes against everything we know and accept about the pine beetle. The fact that they can lure a pine beetle with pheromones in May is proof enough. Larvae cannot be lured through the air by pheromones, and pine beetle eggs will not spontaneously grow wings in "cold winter" to be drawn to a trap. The whole fucking point is that weather changes are now allowing 2 generations per year instead of 1. You want to see this test run during the egg stage? Do you see insects cruising around when the weather is cold? Do you really think that beetles trapped using pheromones in May are less developed than the one they happened upon on Niwot Ridge in May? And what would running the experiment with "other beetle types" look like and what would it have to do with proving or disproving the fact that pine beetles are squeezing out 2 generations where they used to make 1?

Nroush
Nroush

Good article about the pine beetle devestation, however the title is misleading. The subtitle additionally says why the forests ate burning up, like there is a correlation between the beetle and all of the current fires. There is only a few sentences that talk about the fires and it never mentions a correlation between the two problems. False advertisement!

Phd
Phd

The article is an example of lacking journalism filled with a lack of citations and filled with conjecture. Worse, the article is stale information. The beetle kill is common knowledge and the simple method of "They set up lures loaded with pheromones to invite beetles to establish broods in those trees." Then stating warm winter sampling represents the first peer-reviewed report of the insect achieving two generations in a single summer. Show this result without luring beetles with pheromones. Then try the same experiment with pine bettles during a cold winter. And finally try the experiment with other beetle types.

Edmund
Edmund

Yea, you're right. He should have written it as "The top ten things you didn't know about pine beetles!" Or maybe 5 in your case.

Ranger
Ranger

Single season multi generations during an upswing in warm winters gets you excited? Read closely, and I see your comment about jerking off - that polishes your stance. Plain, simple, concise and without argument - it’s lack of forest diversity. Now you can once again start your multi seasonal pseudo physical and biased masturbation and please stop writing comments where you have no expertise or degree. Grower, thank you.

 
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