Pine beetles spread to 3.6 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming |

Pine beetles spread to 3.6 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming

Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) – Tree-killing beetles have infested another 500,000 acres of pine trees in Colorado and southern Wyoming, boosting the total outbreak to 3.6 million acres in the region, according to a report released Friday.

The infestation that started more than a decade ago in Colorado’s north-central mountains is growing more rapidly east of the Continental Divide, the U.S. Forest Service said. The biggest increases last year were in northern Colorado’s Larimer County and southern Wyoming’s Snowy and Laramie mountains.

Rick Cables, head of the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region, said a national management team formed late last year is coordinating responses to the epidemic.

The Forest Service is pumping $40 million more into battling the tiny bugs that burrow under the bark of pine trees.

The beetles, about the size of a match head, lay their eggs inside the tree, turning the green needles to the color of rust as they feed on the tree and restrict its ability to draw water.

Threats from the stands of dead trees include the risk of catastrophic wildfires, injury and property damage from falling trees, and damage to waterways from erosion, forest officials said.

Thousands of acres of infected trees have been cut.

“For the next two years, we are working with a national incident management organization to approach our efforts across the entire landscape utilizing all of the tools available,” Cables said.

While bark beetle infestations are considered part of natural cycles, experts said drought and warmer temperatures are making the current outbreak worse. The region hasn’t had prolonged freezing temperatures that would help kill the bugs, and drought has weakened the trees.

Other Western states with beetle infestations are Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and eastern Washington. And about 330,000 acres of the 1.2 million-acre Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota have been affected.

Some critics have questioned spending so much money to remove the infected trees. Researchers, including University of Colorado professor Tom Veblen, have said climate – hot, dry weather – drives forest fires, and that dead trees are no more of a fire risk than live ones.