Our beetles are being watched

University of Illinois is studying Colorado communities' response to forest epidemic

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Colorado's pine beetles are now getting national attention. The University of Illinois is study how towns in the mountains are dealing with the epidemic.
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily

Kimberly Nicoletti
June 26, 2006

SUMMIT COUNTY - Vail, Frisco and other Rocky Mountain communities are under a watchful eye as the region deals with the pine beetle outbreak and the rampant loss of lodgepole pines.

Courtney Flint, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, is studying Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne, Vail, Granby, Walden and Kremmling. Flint conducted a similar study from 2003-2005 on Alaska's response to spruce bark beetle outbreaks, in which the Kenai Peninsula lost 1.5 million trees over a 20-year period.

The study will provide forest managers with different views on community vulnerabilities, perceptions of risks to forests, local resources and actions regarding forest management. It will show where local communities agree with or differ from the forest service's plans. It will also indicate if the various regions respond in similar or different ways.

Homeowners in Vail and Avon's Mountain Star neighborhood have funded their own pine beetle projects. In Vail, firefighters training for their chain saw licenses cut trees while in Mountain Star, felled trees were removed by helicopter.

In Summit County, the Snake River homeowners' association took out 2,000 trees, Frisco is removing 9,000 beetle-infested trees around the Nordic center, Frisco Bay trail and the disc golf course in an effort to create long-term forest health. In Summit County, many homeowners' associations have sprayed for beetles for years.

"We're urging people to spray, telling them it's the only thing they can do, because there's no other hope," said Pat Tormey, spokesperson for Ruby Ranch. "We're not saying it will work, because we don't know, but it's become more pressing now."

This summer, Flint will interview forest managers and about 15 to 30 members of each community, ranging from real estate agents and business owners to health providers and minority groups, to get their perspectives on the problem and solutions. She also will attend local meetings, including the task force's July meeting. In January, she will mail a survey to households in each community to assess opinions from the larger populations.

Flint plans to publish her findings in academic journals geared toward forest management. She also will submit her reports to each Colorado community.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado