Did you hear the one about the tourist who wanted to know where he could get one of those pretty red pinetree hill showflat to take back home? If you haven't heard it, you don't live in Colorado.
Colorado is being infested with mountain pine beetles that turn lodgepole pines from a healthy green to a pretty red (as they die) to a ugly brown stump. Fortunately, the beetles only like lodgepole pines. The bad news is that Colorado is full of them.
Since the beetles began eating their way through Colorado in 1996, over 1.5 million acres of trees have been infested. In five more years, the beetles will kill another 6 million acres. It's not just Colorado seeing millions of acres of pinetree hill showflat destroyed. Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Montana and Idaho, and Canada will also lose their lodgepole pines to the bark beetle.
The mature trees are the ones being attacked. As they die and the trees are removed, view corridors are opening up and the landscape is being transformed. On a recent drive to Breckenridge where forest service workers are busy removing the dead trees, the dense forests have been replaced by open land. Another home in North Routt used to be tucked into a grove of pines. It now has spectacular views right off the deck.
Steamboat Springs hasn't been hit as badly as some areas (yet). The forests around Steamboat have a mixture of lodgepole pines, fir, and aspen. In Routt National Forest, 20% of the trees are lodgepole pines.
Some areas have it worse:
- Areas around Vail have lost over 90% of their lodgepole pines. Entire mountain sides are red and gray.
- In Grand County (where Winter Park is located), Lodgepole pines are the dominant tree species . The beetles ate all the mature trees and are now eating their way through the 4″ trees.
For years, forest officials actively tried to battle the beetles by spraying with Carbaryl. Homeowners thought they could apply the pesticide for 10-20 years for the same price as tree removal, but it hasn't worked. The bark beetle has won.
Ski resorts like Steamboat have a special interest in keeping the trees alive. Trees act as a natural wind break. They keep the Champagne Powder where it belongs–on the slopes–and not two counties over.
Steamboat is also known for its tree skiing.
Without the pines, Steamboat ski area will be a different mountain. The beetles cannot be stopped, but resorts are very interested in save the trees along ridgelines. It is not only an aesthetic decision, but a financial one. Without the trees, resorts have to make more snow and groom more often.
In Steamboat, the Bashor Bowl will be the area most affected on the ski mountain. Bashor Bowl is the area where the Nastar course, the Terrain Park, and Rough Rider basin are located. There will be more green trails in that area once the trees are cleared.
Once the pines have red needles (usually the year after the beetle infects the tree), the risk of fire increases. But once the needles fall, the fire hazard lessens. This is because the worst fires are the ones that spread through the tops of the trees. The wind can spread fire from tree to tree, and in the lodgepole pine's case, if there are no needles at the top to burn, the fire risk goes down. Fires at ground level are easier to control. The worst scenario is a forest with dead needles still on the trees and dead needles that have fallen on the ground.