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Drought, beetles continue to stress Routt County’s forests

Community invited to wildfire mitigation conference April 30

Across higher elevations in Northwest Colorado, the western balsam bark beetle is causing a decline in sub-alpine fir trees, exacerbated by prolonged drought that has weakened the trees’ defenses. The beetles’ damage is particularly notable around Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass, north Routt County and Emerald Mountain.
John Twitchell-Colorado State Forest Service/Courtesy photo

The 7,586-acre Morgan Creek Fire in north Routt County that started in July 2021 may have been scary and smoky for local residents, but the silver lining is contributions to improved forest health.

“Fire is a necessary part of a natural renewal of ecosystems,” said Carolina Manriquez, longtime local forester with the Colorado State Forest Service. “Fire is part of forest health.”

Manriquez spoke about stressed forest conditions to some 40 people during the April community meeting of Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, and she promoted attendance at the upcoming Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference in Steamboat Springs.



“Years of unprecedented drought has stressed our forests. These conditions, combined with more people living in the wildland-urban interface, require us to act boldly to help our communities adapt to a new normal with wildfire,” Manriquez said. “We just don’t have the water we used to have, and we probably won’t have it again. During extreme drought, trees are unable to produce enough resin to push beetles out and are more prone to burning.”

The Routt County Wildfire Conference on April 30 is a free forum hosted by the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council. The conference is set for 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Albright Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College. Registration is available at RouttWildfire.org.



The conference is designed to help attendees prepare for the upcoming fire season and leave with tools to take action.

IF YOU GO

What: Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference, free to public

When: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, April 30

Where: Albright Auditorium, Colorado Mountain College, Steamboat Springs

Registration: RouttWildfire.org

Before the public session on April 30, community leaders, resource professionals and invited stakeholders will gather on April 29 to assess the current wildfire mitigation needs of Routt County. That includes moving forward on an update of the Routt County Community Wildfire Protection Plan that has not been updated since September 2010.

The mitigation council and Routt County Office of Emergency Management currently are revamping a request for proposals to update the CWPP. After the request goes out late this month, the update is expected to take 12 to 18 months. The city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County have both committed $15,000 toward the CWPP in addition to other state mitigation and federal FEMA funds for a total of $90,000 so far, according to David “Mo” DeMorat, Routt County emergency operations director.

The 2021 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests report notes that years of drought led to outbreaks of tree-killing bark beetles threatening forest health and increasing the risk of wildfires. Dry conditions put stress on trees and lead to outbreaks of insects such as the spruce beetle that kills more trees in Colorado than any other forest pest.

Douglas fir beetles, spruce beetles and western balsam bark beetles are active in Northwest Colorado in addition to mountain pine beetles, according to Manriquez.

The western balsam bark beetle has affected acreage across higher elevations of Colorado including near Rabbit Ears Pass, Emerald Mountain and in north Routt County. The Douglas fir beetle has spread in older trees in Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Summit, Pitkin and Mesa counties.

The health of forests affect most Coloradoans, as 80% of Colorado residents rely on forested watersheds for clean drinking water, according to Manriquez.

The forester encouraged local residents and landowners who are seeing trees turning red or dying to reach out to the CSFS for help so that the community can work together using pheromone treatments or selective tree removal to try to contain beetle spread.

“If you see a lot of decline happening, let us know,” said Manriquez, who has two decades of experience in forest management and restoration. “We rely on communities and residents to improve forest health and reduce wildlife risk on a local level. We need to be proactive and adaptive as we see climate change affecting our ecosystems and respond accordingly.”


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