Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Almost anything can look good in the right light. Take for instance, this tree. It has a nice warm red tone that goes well with the green surrounding it. That warmth is only enhanced by the early morning sun.

However, I can only see what it represents. I don't think that this will ever look pleasing to me. This tree is dead as a result of Mountain Pine Beetle damage. This bark beetle is native to North America from Mexico to Canada. The beetles bore into the tree for food and egg laying. This usually results in the death of the tree.

The current epidemic is much bigger than epidemics in the past, and effects millions of acres of trees western North America. The severness of this outbreak is believed to be caused by a number of factors, such as: recent droughts weakening trees, a series warm winters, past fire control strategies.

During our recent vacation, we spent some time in Steamboat Springs. I was appalled at how bad it had become. I was last in the Steamboat Springs area about 2 yrs ago. The difference between then and now is astounding and very depressing.

All I could think about was the loss of beauty and wildlife habitat, the future fires feed by all the dead wood, the erosion, etc.

While it’s not good, it’s not all bad. While in Kremmling, Co, we talked to the lady at the Visitor's Center. She says it’s a mixed bag - the death of all those trees is providing a lot of employment. There are a lot of dead trees that if left standing could be very dangerous. Besides providing fuel for fires, there is also danger from the trees falling. There are many campgrounds, picnic grounds and even forest roads that are becoming increasingly dangerous due to the threat of falling trees. Many people are finding employment logging these dead trees.

Additionally, the pine beetles leave behind a blue fungus that stains the wood. There are some that consider it beautiful. I've seen decorative items carved from it as well as furniture, paneling and cabinets. I think that it's better to use the already dead wood rather than cutting down new trees. However, apparently the market for beetle-killed wood is rather small.

Another use for the dead wood is as a source for creating cellulosic ethanol. According to the Rocky Mountain News, a Canadian company plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in Colorado, which would convert beetle-kill, among other wood waste, into ethanol fuel.

But more than that, the death of these trees open up eco-zones for other plants (aspens, wildflowers, and grasses) and animals (deer, elk, etc).

I don’t think that these thing make up for the death of many millions of trees. It is simply an attempt to make lemonade. It does however, leave me wondering “What can I do”?

That’s my world this Tuesday. Be sure to visits other worlds at My World Tuesday.


kaye said...

the mountains surrounding my home suffer a similar plight. It is heart breaking, but man has little control over the battles waged in nature.

mkreider said...

It was only a few years ago that all the orange trees around Ft. Lauderdale were cut down because of a spreading disease in order to protect the commercial groves. Many private trees in folks back yards were removed even though no disease was present. Bummer.

Russ, you've got a beautiful blog going here, the photography is stunning. The panorama shot of Pikes Peak is a tour de force!

Sylvia K said...

Marvelous post, Russ, fantastic, beautiful photos. We have many of the same problems in the northwest and it's so sad and I find myself asking the same question -- what can I do?

Gaelyn said...

I don't like to see mass forest die off because of the spread of the Pine Beetle. However, if we hadn't put our human fingers in the pot and suppressed forest fire so long it would probably be only a mild epidemic. Some of this has to be part of forest succession.
I frequently talk to visitors about fire's role in a forest. We don't seem to have the Pine Beetle problem in epicemic proportions.
Your captures certainly display some gorgeous CO country.

Photo Cache said...

that is a depressing news. we had something similar going with the california oaks a few years ago.

you raised a good question at the end of your post.

Louise said...

Sometimes there is not choice but to make lemonade or be a lemon. A good attitude is always nicer. Your photos are beautiful, even if there is death in them.

Carolyn said...

A very poignant post Russ. Your photos are beautiful. You blog is most enjoyable reading. I will be back to read more.
Here on Haida Gwaii we have very little pine so we missed the devastation of the pine beetle infestation in North British Columbia. I know your heart break. I traveled from Prince Rupert to Jasper on the train last fall and could not believe the devastation.
Silver lining, value added wood is really quite stunning...the 2010 Olympic Speed Skating Oval in Richmond, BC used pine beetle wood in the ceiling an it is absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing your part of our world.

Arija said...

The trees without needles are not such a large fire risk, it is the resin in the needles that is the real fuel. Onr thing to laud extra employmen, another to consider the massive erosion such a process opens the door to. Erosion on that scale is a non-reversible process.

ms toast burner said...

Great post, Russ.

I was aware of the pine beetle problem but not its relationship to forest fires. Interesting and that does make sense.

Bryan said...

Hmm. Losing trees to these beetles would also contribute to a rise in greenhouse gases, which would in turn create a warmer climate, which would mean more beetles, meaning more trees lost, meaning more greenhouse gases, meaning a warmer climate, meaning...

Do you know if there are any defenses or countermeasures that have been developed? I can only imagine that this problem will continue to grow.

Photo #2 looks like it'd be a winner in winter too.

Russ said...

Thanks everyone!

Thank you and welcome, mkreider.

Bryan, that sounds like a likely feedback cycle to me as well... However, I don't have any real scientific data one way or the other.

If you see one of these pine beetles in the street - be sure to give it a good talking to!