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Pitkin County, Aspen officials brace for spring beetle battle

Charles Agar
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Pitkin County is not immune to the mountain pine beetle now turning vast swaths of Colorado pine forests a deadly red.

Lodgepole pine is the favored host of the scourge, also called the bark beetle, and while local tree diversity should prevent the kind of wholesale devastation occurring along the Interstate 70 corridor and in Grand County, local officials have received increased reports of beetle hits.

Both city of Aspen and Pitkin County officials, trying to stay ahead of the beetle infestation as the critters prepare to move to new host trees in the spring, will hold an open forum at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) at noon Wednesday.



“Lodgepole pine is certainly a favored species of mountain pine beetle,” said city forester Chris Forman, but the particularly voracious beetles are hitting other kinds of pines and even smaller trees.

Beetles lay eggs in the trees, and as the larvae feed they cut off the flow of water and nutrients, eventually killing the hosts before flying to new trees beginning in early July.



Diverse stands of Douglas firs and spruce trees on Aspen Mountain likely will not be affected, but lodgepole and other pine species on Independence Pass and parts of Smuggler Mountain are vulnerable, Forman said.

Parts of Pitkin County such as Emma, the Crystal River valley and the area south of Carbondale also have large stands of lodgepole pines that could see beetle infestations, according to county officials.

Trees not yet affected by pine beetles can be sprayed to prevent beetle attacks, Forman said. Preventative sprays are good for about eight months, and the work can be done by any local arborist, Forman said .

But trees that already are infested with beetles ” characterized by long pitch tubes emanating from tree bark ” likely are doomed, Forman said.

“If you see the pitch tubes on your tree, that means those beetles already entered your tree last summer,” Forman said. “Unfortunately, that tree may be a goner.”

Cutting down infested trees alone isn’t enough, though; the beetles must be killed before they take to the air and find a new host, which means chipping the trees in a wood chipper, burning the trees immediately (stacking cut wood to be burned later won’t kill the beetles) or covering wood piles with clear plastic, blocking the beetles’ escape.

Forman began seeing hits on pine trees in the city of Aspen in 2007 and has received an increasing number of calls from residents.

Forman said locals need to knock down infested trees and kill the beetles before the tenacious creatures fly to new hosts, which could be as soon as early July.

Forman hopes his talk Wednesday will help clear the air and give people some strategies for ridding their trees of beetles.

Pitkin County officials also have received more calls this year.

“People should check their pines,” said Crystal Yates-White, land manager with Pitkin County land management department, an agency dealing mostly with noxious weeds.

Yates-White recommended thinning out thick stands of lodgepole pines, adding that healthy trees area less likely to be affected because robust trees can literally spit out the beetles with copious amounts of pitch.

“It’s still primarily lodgepole, but there area other species that are susceptible,” Yates-White said, especially in downvalley areas of Pitkin County where the beetles could not only hit lodgepole pine stands but bristlecone and limber pine species as well.

For more information about the mountain pine beetle, join Forman from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday for his talk at ACES, or call Yates-White at 920-5214.

cagar@aspentimes.com


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