January 19, 2009

Pine Beetles kill 2 million acres in Colorado alone. 25 million acres in N. America—and speeding.

Climate Change ain’t future tense.

Climate Change is here, now—as evidenced, for example, by the pine beetle’s devastating spread in the Rocky Mountains.A month ago, the NY Times did a report on this phenomenon around the nation—where beetles, no longer dying due to freezing temperatures, are waking up earlier, working later, breeding more, dying less, spreading their territory and laying waste to vast swathes of US forests—trees are dying at twice the rate they used to. It’s happening now, in our backyard.

Mountain pine beetles are chewing through Colorado’s high-altitude forests at a slightly slower pace but are more active on the Front Range, according to a survey released Friday by the U.S. and Colorado forest services.

The beetles spread to 400,000 more acres in 2008, bringing the total area infected to about 2 million acres since 1996, when foresters first began tracking the outbreak.

Although the infestation is spreading more slowly – 500,000 new acres were affected in 2007 – diseased trees are now widely in evidence in Larimer, Boulder, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, said Colorado State Forest supervisor Joe Duda.

“In two years, we’ve doubled the amount of acreage that has been killed,” said Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and chairman of the state’s bark beetle cooperative. “It’s disconcerting.”

Forest officials have been teaming up with local communities statewide to protect recreation areas and critical mountain watersheds, but much remains to be done.

“Epidemics that affect the forest on a landscape level, like the mountain pine beetle, require a strong and coordinated effort among all of those impacted by this infestation,” Rick Cables, regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.

Spurred by drought and an aging forest, the beetle infestation has caused mountain communities across the state to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create safe zones around towns and reservoirs.

Two pellet mills, in Walden and Kremmling, now buy downed trees that can’t be salvaged, and sales efforts have begun to help create markets for lumber from beetle-killed trees, Duda said.

Last summer, crews cleared dead and damaged trees from 31 Colorado campgrounds. But officials continue to caution people to use extra care when they are hiking and skiing in areas with extensive beetle kill because of risk of falling trees.

This year, the U.S. Forest Service and the state will once again deploy teams to thin diseased trees and spray those that can still be rescued out of the 22 million acres of forest across the state.

Severson said he expects about $13 million in federal funds to help battle beetles this year, up from $8 million in 2008.

But Severson said at least $20 million…

Here’s the rest.

Some videos:

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