Mountain Pine Beetle infestation reaches Boulder County
The Mountain Pine Beetle is considered one of the most important pests in Colorado pine forests, according to a study by Colorado State University Forestry. And like any pest, they are capable of overstaying their welcome.
Thousands of trees all over the Northern half of Colorado are infested with pine beetles and their populations can easily double in size with each year. Infested pine trees, which have a rust-like coloration, can be seen all over, especially along I-70 and in the outskirts of the Front Range. Boulder County experiences less than a dozen cases per year on average and usually only with trees that are not healthy.
“I don’t want to alarm anybody, but we have a mountain pine beetle epidemic underway,” said Tom Wardel, assistant state forester. “The population has increased to the point that it is now a major problem,” Wardel said.
Wardel also said that the beetle has not become a serious problem on the Front Range, but that an outbreak of this size could last 10 to 15 years and increase the risk of more cases in mountain homes. Residential areas can be hit through the delivery of infested firewood. This has never been a problem in Boulder County, but similar, related beetles in other parts of the country have been known to travel this way.
“I hope they go away and we never have to talk about them again, but I have a feeling this will be going on for quite some time,” Wardel said.
Boulder County has not experienced a pine beetle outbreak since the early 80s. Chris Wanner, forest ecologist for Boulder County Open Space & Mountain Parks, said that residents do need to be aware of the signs and take the necessary precautions to protect trees on their property.
“We have no signs of epidemic or outbreak, but (pine beetles) are always out there,” Wanner said.
The Mountain Pine Beetle affects the ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees, found mostly in the northern central mountains of Colorado and are why this region is seeing such a large number of infested trees. Grand Lake and other areas around Rocky Mountain National Park have been hit hard by pine beetles.
CSU Forestry reports that the mountain pine beetle is an important part of Colorado’s environment because they dispose of trees that live in poor conditions. Trees that do not grow as they should due to old age, crowding, root disease, drought or fire damage are the most likely to be attacked.
The beetle burrows in through an existing woodpecker hole or makes one of its own. Once inside, the beetles lay eggs and systematically eat the tree from the inside out. The beetles transmit blue stain fungi that contaminate the tree and assist in killing it.
Early symptoms of infestation include brown and white popcorn shaped mounds of resin on the tree trunk and small piles of wood chips at the base of the tree. The most obvious symptom is discoloration of foliage, but this will occur eight to 10 months after infestation. By that time there are few possibilities to save the tree.
Residents can have their trees sprayed at the beginning of the summer to prevent a beetle attack, but the best preventative measure a homeowner can take is to plant all new pines spaced apart from each other.
Once a tree is infested a licensed arborist can administer intravenous pesticide injections. These systemic injections can help to limit infestations and are ideal for mountain homeowners who have pine beetles in their trees. This method can be effective, but is not an efficient method for curing widespread infestations.