The Pine Beetle Infestation

11/1/08

Overview

The Mountain Pine Beetle was first identified in 1996. Recently, foresters identified over 1.5 million acres of dead and dying lodgepole pines in Colorado. The infestation is being called “catastrophic” with predictions that “every large, mature lodgepole pine forest in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead within three to five years.” Join Active Minds as we explore the science of this situation as well as the potential options to address the devastation.

Key Lecture Points

  • In 1996, Colorado foresters first began to see the signs of an infestation of mountain pine beetle, an insect the size of a grain of rice, but with the capacity to kill large numbers of pine trees. In the past 12 years, the pine beetle infestation has spread to over 1.5 million acres of the 22 million acres of Colorado forest. Experts predict that every large, mature lodgepole pine forest in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead within three to five years.
  • In 2007 alone, the infestation once centered on the Western Slope tore through 500,000 high-elevation acres and embedded itself along the Front Range, exploding in Boulder and Larimer counties where affected acres grew by 1,500 percent.
  • The spread of the pine beetle is directly associated with climate change. Colorado state forester Jeff Jahnke suggests that the infestation is a result of "an unprecedented combination of drought and warm winters".
  • The pine beetle has a very real impact upon the state of Colorado (as well as other parts of the nation and Canada that are experiencing infestation). The killing of thousands of acres of forest is creating a dangerous fire hazard, particularly in areas that have large populations. Additionally, the killed trees create a hazard to those who might be at risk of felled trees in windy conditions. Indeed, a resident of Grand Lake, Colorado was killed in late October by a pine beetle infested tree. The killing of acres of trees is also creating soil erosion and dangerous runoff that is impacting the Colorado water supply.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major causes of the current pine beetle infestation?
  • What are the greatest risks, in your opinion, associated with the pine beetle?
  • Given the limited budget that the state of Colorado has, what should be the legislative priorities for dealing with the pine beetle?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you been to the high country and seen the forests in Summit and/or Grand County? Describe your impression.
  • Is the pine beetle having an impact upon you in any way? Describe.

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