Beetle Kill 2009: Rocky Mountain National Park manages large stands of beetle kill |

Beetle Kill 2009: Rocky Mountain National Park manages large stands of beetle kill

Cyndi McCoy
Sky-Hi Daily News
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

There may be snow on the ground, but Rocky Mountain National Park has been cutting down beetle-killed trees this year in anticipation of a dangerous fire season.

Because of the ongoing beetle mitigation, there will be fewer campsites available in RMNP this year. Extensive work continues at a variety of locations, including at Timber Creek Campground on the park’s west side.

The campground sits at 8,900 feet elevation, with an abundance of lodgepole forest. Most of the trees at the campground, the National Park Service reported, have been killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

Work in four loops in the campground, which are temporarily closed for clearing, has already begun. Loop A was finished in March. The company the NPS contracted cut and removed the dead trees in that loop and will return, flush the stumps, clear slash (once the snow has melted), and begin mitigation work in the other three loops.

The NPS hopes to have most of the Timber Creek Campground mitigation complete by the end of the summer, with three of the four loops expected to be open in June. Temporary closures are also scheduled for hazard tree removal in several backcountry campsites, as well as in trailhead parking and picnic areas.

Backcountry comprises almost 95 percent of the park. For updates on which of the park’s almost 270 backcountry campsites are open, hikers are encouraged to visit the park’s backcountry office or Web site. Backcountry permits are required and visitors are cautioned to be aware of high wind risk from toppling trees no longer protected by stands of other trees.

The bark beetle infestation has been elevated into additional tree species, but not on a scale of the lodgepole infestation, the park reports. Trees include several other pines (Ponderosa and limber), firs (subalpine and Douglas), and spruce (Colorado blue and Engelmann). There are also aspens, which have been unaffected by the bark beetle.

With “no effective means of controlling a large beetle outbreak in such a vast area,” according to RMNP spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. Continuing mitigation efforts in the national park has been an “enormous task.”

“Beetle outbreaks have occurred in the past, but since the park was established in 1915, there has never been an outbreak as large as the once currently occurring,” the NPS reported. Because of the size of the project, Patterson said “drastic measures” are being taken to cut, remove and clear thousands of affected trees. Crews, she added, will continue to take inventory of infested areas and “plan accordingly.”

“The issues of beetles, the changing forests of the western United States and Canada, as well as the changing landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park are reminders to us all of nature’s ability to change beyond human control,” said Vaughn Baker, RMNP superintendent. “At the same time, we have found it helpful to explore these forests to see all of the young new trees starting to grow. We will continue to focus our beetle mitigation efforts on the removal of hazard trees and hazard fuels tied to the protection of life and property.”

The park is also set to work on continuing mechanical thinning and removal along its west boundary this season. Crews just completed some pile burning projects there in late March.

As far as fire response goes on the park’s west side, evacuation plans are in place and RMNP has an agreement with the Grand Lake Fire Protection District and the U.S. Forest Service to pull together emergency resources. Several fire crews are based on east side of the park, which can also call in a Hotshot Crew if available.

The park encompasses 416 square miles of varied terrain and wilderness, around 37 percent of which is on its west side and borders Grand Lake. The West Entrance is just south of Kawuneeche Visitor Center, leading what were almost 3,000,000 visitors in 2008 along one of the highest (continuous) paved highways America ” and what has been considered to be some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado.