The pine beetle epidemic has decimated 70 percent of the lodgepole pine trees in Colorado and has drastically changed the mountain ecosystems. Lodgepole pines are found at high elevations between 6,000 and 11,000 feet.
Here are a few articles that do a good job explaining what the pine beetle is and how it impacts trees:
But only a few articles took those results and applied them to the ecosystem and its impacts to Colorado residents.
The Rocky reported that this outbreak will have far reaching impacts on the states water supply because the dead trees will no longer be able to hold the soil in place. Rivers, lakes and streams could be come clogged as sediment washes down mountain sides.
Also nature lovers will need to be more careful about where they step as falling red-dried up trees are more likely. This could impact Colorado’s tourism industry, much of which is focused on “getting outside.” Tourism is a big industry in the state. It accounts for some 140,000+ jobs across the state.
” Overnight visitors contribute $9.8 billion a year,” said Matt Cheroutes, Office of Economic Development and International Trade spokesman.
While some will argue that pine beetle outbreaks are a natural process, these outbreaks are pretty much unheard of in high alpine ecosystems because the cold temperatures freeze out the bugs. But, this time the bugs pushed up into higher latitudes and took advantage of the warmer than usual temperatures.
These giant trees can live for hundreds of years and look similar to ponderosa pines. Hiking in Indian Peak Wilderness I have seen Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees hiding in their branches. If all trends continue these trees may not be seen in the Colorado mountains for a long time.
“We’re two to three years from seeing virtually the death of mature lodgepole pines,” said Jan Burke, a silviculturist for Colorado’s White River national forest.
“To the casual observer it will look like all of them. It’s wholesale mortality. It’s difficult to watch these really beautiful stands die. It just makes you want to go home.”