Spruce beetle replaces mountain pine beetle as biggest insect threat to Colorado forests | SteamboatToday.com

Spruce beetle replaces mountain pine beetle as biggest insect threat to Colorado forests

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily
Sara Knuth/sknuth@greeleytribune.com

FRISCO — The Colorado State Forest Service recently released its annual report on the health of the state’s forests, and it showed the growing shadow of a lingering threat. The spruce beetle has now replaced the mountain pine beetle as the biggest insect disease threat to Colorado’s forests.

The cover of the report, which encompasses the state’s forest management efforts, features a photo of the Buffalo Mountain Fire near Silverthorne last year. Record-high temperatures and record-low precipitation is blamed for the ferocity of that fire and the many others that sprung up across the state.

The Buffalo Mountain Fire came close to destroying billions in real estate, and the Colorado State Forest Service emphasized the economic impact of forests. When the forests are healthy, tourism and recreation are a boon to the state economy; when they’re sick, fire and blight puts a major dent in both industries. Last year, the state saw more forest acreage burned than in any year aside from 2002.

A recycling bin sits on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

“The state of Colorado spent an estimated $40 million for fire suppression efforts in 2018 — and this figure does not include what federal and other agencies spent, nor add in vastly greater financial impacts due to property losses, reduced tourism and potential future damage to water supplies and infrastructure,” Colorado state forester Michael B. Lester wrote in a letter introducing the report.

Since dead and sick trees are one of the main underlying causes of wildfires, concern naturally goes toward what is causing the blight. The mountain pine beetle affected 3.4 million acres during its infestation from 1996 to 2014. But the spruce beetle is now infesting tens of thousands of acres each year.

“This insect has now affected more than 1.8 million cumulative acres since 2000, with a total of 178,000 acres of active infestations occurring in high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests in 2018,” the report noted.

The damage estimate comes from an aerial forest survey the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service conducted last year.

Other domestic insects causing damage are the roundhead pine beetle, the Douglas fir beetle, the Western spruce budworm and the Western balsam bark beetle. As far as invasive, nonnative species causing damage, the emerald ash borer continues to devastate forests in Boulder County and across North America, along with the Japanese beetle.

To combat the combined effects of these insect infestations, Lester urged the public to support forest management efforts, which he said prevented a much worse wildfire season than what was experienced last year.


Do you think fire restrictions should be put in place in Routt County?

  • Yes, the fire danger is very high (68%, 357 Votes)
  • No, wait until it’s necessary (23%, 122 Votes)
  • I don’t know enough about the criteria (9%, 48 Votes)

Total Voters: 527

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“Just as building a levee far in advance of a storm can help protect a neighborhood from flooding years later, proactive forest management work has very real implications when a catastrophic event occurs,” Lester wrote.

This story is from summitdaily.com.

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