Colorado has more than 830 million dead trees largely because of bark beetles

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DENVER — The number of dead, standing trees in Colorado forests has increased almost 30 percent over the past seven years, fueling concerns about wildfires and the water supply, according to a Colorado State Forest Service study released Wednesday.

It’s estimated there are more than 830 million dead trees in Colorado forests, nearly one out of every 14 trees.

The increasing tree mortality is largely because of the impact of bark beetles, and is most observable in spruce-fir and lodgepole pine forests, according to the 2016 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests.

(Adult spruce beetles under the bark of a tree. Photo: Colorado State Forest Service.)
Adult spruce beetles under the bark of a tree. (Photo: Colorado State Forest Service.)

The report said Colorado’s spruce beetle epidemic has impacted 1.7 million acres and the decades-long mountain pine beetle epidemic has impacted almost 3.4 million acres.

Experts are concerned the large number of dead trees might result in “forests conducive to large, intense wildfires like the 2016 Beaver Creek Fire that burned through beetle-kill timber northwest of Walden.”

The trees can also impact water supplies across the state. About 80 percent of the state’s population relies on forested watersheds for municipal water supplies, the report said.

“With increasing changes in our forests, now is the time for determining how we will manage for projected future conditions,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service.

The CSFS is taking actions to address the threats, including efforts focused on watershed protection and reducing wildfire risk; providing seedling trees for restoration efforts; wood utilization and marketing; and insect and disease detection.

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