The Front Bowls of Vail’

Timber official says Vail had resources to fight beetles but failed

Bob Berwyn
October 7, 2005

SUMMIT COUNTY — The outlook for Summit County’s fight to save its trees from pine-beetle infestation is somewhat bleak, according to Colorado State Forester Mike Harvey.

“It’s going to be dramatic,” Harvey said, anticipating that tree mortality could continue to climb.

In past beetle outbreaks, each infested tree might send out enough beetles to infest another two trees nearby. That has climbed statewide to seven trees, he said. That means for every red tree visible this summer, as many as seven more nearby trees could die next year.

It’s hard to predict if and when the spread will slow in Summit County. Altitude, previously thought to be a limiting factor, does not seem to be slowing the advance, U.S. Forest Service entomologist Bob Cain said.

“Historically, above 8,800 feet we didn’t see widespread outbreaks … but what we thought was a limiting factor is not holding up,” Cain said, pointing out a trend of warming temperatures at higher elevations. “We’re also seeing outbreaks farther north, in British Columbia, that we’ve never seen before.”

Thinning stands of trees is also less effective with the larger epidemic, Cain added. Based on the trends, he said, future activities should focus on clear cutting where applicable, letting fires burn where it’s safe, thinning to try to prevent outbreaks, being aggressive in treating spot infections and spraying pesticides.

In Eagle County lodgepole mortality is likely to reach 80 percent to 90 percent in some areas, said Cal Wettstein, Holy Cross district ranger. And that could eventually be the case for at least parts of Summit County, he predicted.

Mark Morgan of the Colorado Timber Industry Association said the Vail Valley represents a lost opportunity in the fight against the bugs, said Morgan.

“Talk about snatching the defeat from the jaws of victory,” Morgan said.

“They dropped the ball on the one-yard line,” he continued, explaining that, if there ever was a community with the resources to aggressively tackle the problem, it’s Vail.

“You’re talking about a place that’s talking about under-grounding I-70 so they don’t have to hear it. They have the money,” Morgan said. “In 10 years, you’re going to be skiing the Front Bowls of Vail.

You’re going to be able to ski anywhere, because there aren’t going to be any trees left.”

Vail Colorado