The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service released the results of their annual aerial forest health survey in Colorado, offering good and bad news for trees.
It found the mountain pine beetle epidemic spread to 31,000 acres in 2012. It's slowed drastically compared with the expansion to 140,000 acres in 2011. This year's additional acres bring the totally infestation acreage to 3.4 million acres in Colorado since the outbreak started in 1996.
However, the spruce beetle outbreak is gaining momentum. It was detected in 183,000 new acres in 2012. According to the survey results released in a press release, the most significant spruce beetle activity was in San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests in southern Colorado.
Kyle Taylor with Timberline Tree Spraying and Fertilizing also said the southern part of the state would see an increase in the spruce beetle. He said along the front range, the biggest enemy for trees will be the mountain pine beetle and the ips beetle.
"When you have hundreds of beetles infesting this tree, it girdles the tree, cuts off the vascular system and it kills the tree," said Taylor.
While these beetles have wreaked havoc on forests, Taylor said they are natural forests managers that prey on weak trees.
"These bugs have been in the forest as long as there has been forests. They're nothing new, they are cyclical and we will have another outbreak of mountain pine beetles, ips beetle, spruce beetles. Every 30, 40 to 50 years, they will turn into an epidemic proportion," said Taylor.
He said it's difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to address this problem because the beetles cannot be stopped by spraying forests aerially. He said it would require an army for workers to go into the forests and spray each tree individually from the ground to the top.
These dead trees are a fire hazard.
"Just common sense tells you, and some of the fires that we had around here last year, a lot of the fuel was dead forest caused from bark-boring insects," said Taylor.
The U.S. Forest Service said stressed trees are more prone to attack from spruce beetles, which are similar to mountain pine beetles. Trees are stressed due to factors like densely stocked stands, ongoing drought conditions and warmer winters.
The U.S. Forest Service pointed out that when spruce beetle numbers increase, they start attacking living trees as well.
It listed counties where increased spruce beetle activity is especially prevalent: Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Las Animas, Pueblo and Saguache counties.
Taylor said it's hard to identify trees under attack by the pests because trees keep their green foliage while beetles devastate the inside of the tree. It isn't until the next season that trees will turn a notorious red color. He said at that point, it's too late to save the tree and the beetles have moved on.
Taylor stressed that an easy way to keep trees healthy is to make sure your firewood is beetle-free. He said people cut down green trees infested with beetles and bring them home to their firewood pile. After that, the beetles can quickly attack every tree on the homeowner's property.
A forest entomologist will host public meetings to address spruce beetle concerns in affected counties:
- Huerfano/Las Animas Counties: Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. at La Veta Community Center in la Veta.
- Chaffee/Saguache/Lake Counties: Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Salida Scout Hut in Salida.
- Custer/Fremont/Pueblo Counties: Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at Cliff Lanes Bowling Alley at Westcliffe.