Mountain pine beetle epidemic

Mountain pine beetle: download brochure by clicking on Forest Service
Mountain pine beetle: download brochure by clicking on Forest ServiceCourtesy US Forest Service

Why are all the trees dying?

Last summer I spent a week in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park. One question was repeatedly being asked by visitors, "Why are all the trees dying?" In many places every lodgepole pine over five inches was dead as far as the eye could see. From the Mexican border all the way up into Canada millions and millions of acres of mountain pine forest are dead or dying.

Mountain Pine Beetles

A black, hard-shelled beetle called Dendroctunus, which means tree killer, drills through pine bark and lays its eggs in the sweet, rich cambium layer that provides nutrients to the tree. They also inject a fungus to stop the tree from moving sap, which could drown the larvae. Officials claim that this is the largest known insect infestation in the history of North America.

Why is this happening now?

Mountain Pine Beetles used to be mostly killed off by -30 to -40 degree below temperatures. That has not happened for about ten years. Eight years of drought also has weakened the trees and their ability to flush out invaders with sap flow.

Dead trees create problems

Dead trees will eventually fall down. This means removing millions of trees near homes and along roads and trails.

At Vail Ski Resort, for example, which has been particularly hard hit, workers have removed thousands of dead trees and planted new ones. In Yellowstone the beetles are killing the white-barked pine trees, which grow nuts rich in fat that are critical to grizzly bears in the fall. In Colorado and Wyoming, officials have closed 38 campgrounds for fear trees could fall on campers. They have reopened all but 14.

Wildfire is the biggest threat. Many homes and communities are surrounded by dry, dead trees. The Forest Service and logging companies are clear-cutting “defensible space” so firefighters have a place to fight fires. The amount of dead wood is overwhelming, though. Hopefully entrepreneurs will find ways to use it. I am afraid that what is left behind is not going to be very "scenic" for a long time.

Learn more about the mountain pine beetle infestation

Source article: New York Times
Video: Americas disappearing forests
US Forest Service: Regional bark beetle information
Denver Post editorial by Merrill Kaufmann: Battling the pine beetle epidemic
32 page teacher packet (pdf): Mountain Pine Beetle Mania

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

akanwischer's picture
akanwischer says:

although this is very sad i think it will be good for the colorado economy. clearing the trees will create a lot of jobs for people in the area but i think you need to look at the bigger picture also maybe a tax to the businesses that decide to clear the dead trees. that would be used to preserve the land and would create more jobs planting new tress. this time maybe a variety of trees I'm not sure if that would prevent this happening again or not.

posted on Mon, 11/24/2008 - 11:22pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

You have to be crazy to think that clearing out the trees will be a good thing. If we were a more eco-friendly and thoughtful country, we might be handling this like British Columbia. Where they already saw a problem back in 2003, and they have been monitoring the problem of a growing pine beetle population for several years, and it's due to the warmer weather. Also, not all dead trees can be used for lumber, since the older trees are the ones that are targeted, they also rot more quickly, becoming useless as far as lumber goes. Lets not forget that deforestation is one of the primary causes of global warming.

Get educated before you start rambling your terrible opinion.

posted on Sun, 12/07/2008 - 8:43pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

The information about what is being done is "state of the art" and is based upon peer reviewed research. I think perhaps you should broaden you sources when attempting to understand this problem. I gave you a link to the Forest Service above. This link from the bottom of that page explains their implementation plan. Go to any college of forestry and talk to people who manage forests for a living. My wife has a Masters degree in Forestry and was assistant Dean at the U of MN forestry college for many years. I stayed with a retired forester who was doing contract work in Colorado last summer and his explanation prompted my "rambling".

posted on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 10:06am
Taz's picture
Taz says:

I have worked with the mountain pine beetle since the 1970's. The mountain pine beetle is a natural part of the forest system. For years they controlled the mountain pine beetle by broadcast burning the clearcut blocks, in the mid 70's they quit broadcast burning blocks and forest health was never a concern ever since till about 5 years ago when they finally woke up and realized all the pine in the BC province were all dead or dying. They were waiting for mother nature to get cold enough to get them back in control, but it never happened. The province did not want to spend the money to look after Forest Health, but wants to maximize it's revenue from the forest. Now the trees are dead and the quality of the lumber is not what it used to be, If the forests were managed and logged properly we would not be having the problems we have right now. If it was done right we would have healthy forest's and not have to plant a tree. As far as these so called experts that have gone to college and universities have gone to school and taking the Biggest Brain Washing course they teach in schools. Hopefully we learned something from the pine beetle this time, because it doesn't seem like we learned anything from the pine beetle epidemic which happened between 80 and 100 years ago. By the time we have forest's in BC's interior again they will have to train all the loggers as they are going to be as scarce as the trees

posted on Sun, 04/19/2009 - 8:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I have always wanted to move out west once I finish college. The main reason for me wanting to move to Colorado, Montana, or Alaska is because of the beautiful scenery. Nowhere else in the country do you have beautiful valleys filled with awsome pines. SHould I give up; will the beautiful west become one vast wasteland. Also, is there a way we can restore the forests to their present state rapidly; I do not want to wait untill 2100, I'll be dead by then

posted on Sat, 06/27/2009 - 10:33am
Tree Specialist's picture
Tree Specialist says:

I would say the reasion is from lack of rain. The trees will die if thehre is not enough rain.

posted on Mon, 07/19/2010 - 7:01pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Rain was not the problem. Bugs are killing the trees.

posted on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 9:33am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Here is an interactive presentation about the beetle some readers might find interesting - post it if you like.

posted on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 7:55pm

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