ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – Western forests are already showing signs of a comeback amid a bark beetle epidemic that has killed millions of lodgepole pines in Colorado and Wyoming, a researcher says.
Greg Aplet, senior forest scientist at The Wilderness Society, told a weekend conference in Aspen that forests that have been attacked by bark beetles will eventually bounce back with more diversity in the ages and species of trees.
But Aplet said it may not happen in the lifetime of anyone alive today, The Aspen Times reported.
An aerial survey by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service showed the epidemic has spread across 4 million acres of trees in Colorado and Wyoming, devastating entire forests in Colorado’s Summit, Grand and Eagle counties.
The lack of variety in today’s forests is a remnant of the mining era, when mountainsides were stripped bare of their vegetation and used for fuel, Aplet said.
Lodgepole pines then proved to be especially resilient and competitive when they spread through the West in the wake of the fires and droughts that wiped out what was left of the greenery.
Studies have shown that 80 percent of lodgepole trees in Colorado were all around the same age before succumbing to the beetles.
But the drought that struck in the previous decade weakened trees of all types and laid the foundation for an intense and severe beetle epidemic, Aplet said.
He said climate change has also contributed to the problem, with warmer temperatures allowing beetles to infest more varieties of trees in higher elevations.
Lodgepoles have withstood epidemics before and won’t disappear from the Rockies, Aplet said. He said he is optimistic that spruces and firs will eventually replace the dead lodgepole population.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)