DENVER - Beetles killed 70,000 acres of spruce trees last year, mostly in southern Colorado's high-altitude
Meanwhile, the mysterious die-off of aspen trees appears to have stabilized, according to a yearly survey of forest
health that the Forest Service released Friday.
Forest scientists now believe the aspen die-off was caused by last decade's drought. Aspen decline peaked in 2008 and
increased very little last year, according to the annual aerial survey of Colorado forests.
The spruce beetle epidemic, however, is growing with no signs of abatement.
There's really nothing to stop it," said Susan Gray of the U.S. Forest Service. The winter temperatures continue to
be very mild compared to a decade ago."
The spruce beetle outbreak began in 2002 and has killed 508,000 acres of trees, mostly Englemann spruce, in Colorado
and southern Wyoming. Hotspots of the outbreak include Wolf Creek Pass and Colorado Highway 149 between South Fork and
But the spruce beetle is far from the state's biggest insect problem. Farther north, the mountain pine beetle outbreak
grew by an additional 524,000 acres last year in Colorado and southern Wyoming, bringing the total to 3.6 million
acres. The beetle's range has spread east across the Continental Divide, and it has hit especially hard in Larimer
County, home to Fort Collins and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Foresters cannot stop such a large outbreak, but they are trying to keep the forests as safe as possible. The Forest
Service is concentrating on keeping falling trees away from roads and power lines, said Rick Cables, chief of the
Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region.
One tree falling on a road can close a road. One tree on a power line and the power's off," Cables said. We've got a
lot of work to do to get these trees back from critical infrastructure."
Last year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack directed $40 million to the Rocky Mountain region to help cope
with the beetles.
The money shows that Colorado's beetle problem has become a national priority, Cables said.