Agencies update Grand County on status of beetle kill projects |

Agencies update Grand County on status of beetle kill projects

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Area foresters sat in the county commissioner boardroom Tuesday and despite a map showing widespread death of lodgepole pine trees, focused on the positive.

Several salvage projects are under way, they said, pellet plants are coming just in time, and federal and state agencies are squeezing as much marketability out of dead lodgepoles as they can muster.

“The beetles are so heavy, they’re looking for anything with a needle on it,” said Bureau of Land Management Forester Rich Rosene after the meeting, reporting that beetles have been found even in Engelmann spruce trees. It’s a growing concern for the high country’s predominant spruce population, and it’s hoped ” but not yet determined ” that the menacing bugs cannot survive without lodgepole pines.

“When they run out of food, we should see a decrease in population,” predicted Acting District Ranger Mark Martin of the U.S. Forest Service’s Sulphur Ranger District (Craig Magwire, he said, is on assignment in Washington D.C.). He said experts believe the beetle is unable to reproduce in spruce trees despite the fact they are boring into them.

Rosene agrees.

“Once mature (lodgepole) trees are gone, the beetle population is definitely going to crash,” he said, explaining that it’s unlikely beetles can survive in younger trees due to a thinner layer of bark “insulation” compared to that of older trees.

Eventually, “there’s going to be a homeless beetle epidemic out there,” he said.

Commissioners had questions about the degradation of wood in the area. Tests conducted by the Kremmling pellet plant claim dead trees standing for up to 10 to 15 years are still viable for the production of pellets.

The chemical component in wood called lignin was found to still be intact after that long. Pellets are made from wood fiber subjected to pressurized treatment. Heat is generated by the pressure, which makes them hold together. But the fiber begins to break down as wood begins to rot.

Some standing dead timber in the Williams Fork area was found to still be usable for firewood after 15 to 20 years, foresters said. It mostly depends on the location of the wood, whether it’s been standing or sitting suspended off the ground, or whether it’s been on the ground where moisture accelerates decay.

It’s estimated that it takes an average of 125 years for a non-beetle-kill lodgepole to “go away” once it’s on the ground, but because most lodgepoles are dying from beetle attacks, the break-down process should speed up from fungi in the trees, according to BLM forest experts.

The BLM, which has concentrated forestry efforts in Jackson County the past three years, highlighted tree projects to be started by springtime in three areas of Grand County: The Hog Back Salvage, about 60 acres just west of C-Lazy U Ranch on Highway 125; the McQueary Gulch, a 200-300-acre cooperative effort with private landowners near the Copper Creek subdivision south of the Williams Fork Reservoir; and Townsend Road, 90 acres by Little h-O Ranch east of Granby.

Rosene explained that because the Bureau’s land areas are smaller and lower in elevation than land managed by the U.S. Forest, average tree diameter is smaller; thus, the Bureau has been less successful in marketing its wood to the two large-scale mills in Montrose and Laramie, Wyo.

The Bureau’s trees have been standing dead for an average seven to eight years, just on the brink of being undesirable to mills.

For this reason, the Bureau sees the pellet plants in Kremmling, and another soon to be opening in Walden, as extremely important for addressing the problem further down the road.

Bureau projects to be sold to the Montrose Intermountain Resources LLC mill in the immediate future include all lodgepoles 5 inches in diameter and greater. Species such as lodgepole and aspen, Rosene said, are best managed when clear-cutting takes place, since the species enjoy full sunlight to regenerate.

Most of the BLM’s tree work is meant to complement adjacent private landowners who are also doing work.

The Forest Service work is targeted to creating fuel breaks to better protect populated areas from forest fire.

Martin of the Forest Service noted that of the 408,000 acres of the Sulphur Ranger District, the agency is focusing on 18 percent of it, and of that 18 percent, 25 percent has been examined and proposed for timber removal.

Through timber sales, already the Forest Service has removed dead or dying lodgepoles from 5,500 acres with another 12,500 acres in planning stages.

The areas already or about to see action are identified as Williams Fork, Arrow Analysis boundary, Winter Park Resort project, Tabernash Analysis, the Arapaho National Recreation Area project, and Willow Creek.

But forest work is not the only factor in making populated areas safer, Martin said.

“Personal defensible space has proven to be the critical thing in wildfire situations.

We’ve got a big problem out there, and the private homeowner’s defensible space is absolutely key.”

As far as Rocky Mountain National Park, it is focusing on areas bordering the Columbine Lake community to limit the amount of blow-down threatening urban interface. The Park is also considering closing down some high-use campgrounds because of the hazards of falling trees, according to Fuels Management Specialist Justin Kincaid of BLM, who has been working closely with the Park.

But “harvesting and sales are not in the Park’s vocabulary,” he said. Work is focused on trail areas, campgrounds and on creating fuel breaks near subdivisions and homeowners.

Those who live on the south shore of Grand Lake, however, will not see tree removal projects any time soon on Shadow Mountain. The extremely steep terrain prevents it, Kincaid said.

A report from Ron Cousineau of the State Forest Service, who was delayed on Berthoud Pass and couldn’t make the meeting, was delivered by a BLM forester; the state is concentrating on projects at Vasquez Creek, Grand Park, the Anne Buckley Ranch, the Denver Water Board land, St. Louis Creek, the Sheep Mountain area and at Young Life.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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