Pine beetles increase falling tree danger in backcountry |

Pine beetles increase falling tree danger in backcountry

Julie Sutor
Summit County correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – As if wildfire danger and marred views weren’t enough, the mountain pine beetle has found yet another way to spoil our fun: Falling trees.

The U.S. Forest Service is warning backcountry skiers, snowmobilers and hikers to be on the lookout for dead lodgepole pines that may topple.

“Research shows that 80 percent of the trees will fall within 12 years of dying,” said USFS spokesperson Mary Ann Chambers.

Mountain pine beetles burrow into the bark of lodgepole pines, which make up about three quarters of the trees in local forests. The Dillon Ranger District estimates that 90 to 95 percent of lodgepoles in Summit County have already been or will be infested and killed by the beetles. Dead trees appear red or have no needles.

Unlike a spruce tree, which has a large, strong taproot, a lodgepole pine has a very shallow root system, making it much more likely to fall when weakened or killed. The danger is especially high for infested trees that still have their needles. Such trees hold more snow and are more susceptible to being blown down in strong winds.

Falling trees in the Rocky Mountain region have been responsible for at least one death and several near-misses during the past year, according to Chambers.

“Down on the White River, a guy was driving down the road, and a tree fell down between his truck and the trailer, right on the trailer hitch,” she said.

In a separate incident, a falling dead tree came within inches of two USFS crew members doing fuel-reduction work near Granby.

“The risk of falling trees has always been there, but it’s a lot higher now,” said Paul Semmer, community planner for the Dillon Ranger District. “Basically, anybody that goes into the woods needs to understand that Mother Nature is changing things quite a bit. That’s why this advisement is so critical.”

Semmer noted that the risks are much reduced in developed recreation areas. Ski areas and campgrounds have on-the-scene managers who monitor trees and assess hazards on a regular basis.

Chambers warned that already-fallen trees also pose a threat, particularly for snowmobilers.

“You may be familiar with a trail, not thinking about a tree being down where yesterday there was none,” she said.

People recreating in Summit County should have a heightened awareness around dead lodgepoles.

“If you’re walking through the forest and you hear a tree start to crack, you’ll have time to get out of the way,” Chambers said.

Chambers also advised against stopping, resting, camping or parking near dead trees and being especially cautious in windy conditions.

“When you know a tree is dead, and the roots are not very stable, you probably don’t want to be lingering under it. Try to find a spruce, fir, aspen or a nice open area. I wouldn’t sit and have lunch under a dead lodgepole,” she said.

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