Foresters are urging Black Forest residents to chip, chop and clip the hundreds of small trees and branches ripped down during last month’s bomb cyclone to help avoid another bark beetle infestation.
“If people treat the slash and green branches impacted by the storm properly, the first brood of the Ips beetle will die,” said Dave Root, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service. “We hopefully can prevent a huge population of beetles emerging from that green slash that will attack other trees.”
The Ips beetle, also known as the engraver beetle, tends to prey on small, newly fallen trees and branches — usually those less than 6 inches, or larger trees stressed by injury or disease, the state Forest Service said in a news release. In mid-April, when the weather warms, they will lay their eggs. Those larvae mature within eight weeks and seek new trees on which to feast.
Though Root does not expect a “massive epidemic” or “wholesale loss of trees,” the outbreak could be widespread for the next two to three years if the community is not proactive.
Root said he does not remember carnage from a major blowdown like the one March 13, which delivered gusts of 84 mph in Black Forest, according to the National Weather Service. Further south, at the Colorado Springs Airport, the weather service reported a 96 mph gust, the strongest ever recorded at that location.
The beetle problem, though, isn’t new. Following the Black Forest fire in 2013, Ips beetles attacked the swaths of dead-standing and severely damaged trees. The outbreak lasted about three years — typical for the engraver.
The potential infestation is yet another indication of the waning health of Colorado forests compromised by more than 100 years of wildfire suppression, prolonged droughts and other disturbances, Root said.
“The thing to keep in mind about Black Forest and other forest areas in Colorado is that, due to a century of fire suppression, so many trees are competing severely with one another. To some degree, we have a whole forest of weakened trees, and ... that makes the trees susceptible to that beetle.”
“As long as overall forest health remains fairly poor, we’re going to continue to see these things,” he said.
That’s why starting to mitigate the impacts of the bomb cyclone on the forest as soon as possible is paramount, the state Forest Service said.
“The best thing landowners can do is treat the wood promptly to kill the Ips before they mature and attack new trees,” said state Forester Mike Till in the news release. This includes lopping branches into small pieces less than 18 inches in length and scattering them across yards. Such mitigation will accelerate drying and kill the immature beetles before they emerge, Till said.
The Black Forest Slash and Mulch Site will open for drop-offs May 4. Root emphasized the need for people to get the affected trees and branches to the site on or near the opening date to ensure that the beetles are killed in as early a stage of their life as possible.
Root advised residents to be cautious cutting down trees that fell against other trees.
“If homeowners are not experienced cutting down trees and don’t understand how they can move, fall and come loose at the butt end, they should contact a professional sawyer or arborist to take care of it,” he said.