Avalanche debris could attract beetle threat

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ASPEN, Colo. — Avalanche debris in the high country could provide fresh breeding grounds for the forest-destroying bark beetle, but a U.S. Forest Service supervisor says there’s little the agency can do to mitigate the threat.

Heavy snowpack unleashed a series of avalanches over the winter that downed spruce and aspen trees in numerous areas — a collective event that White National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams says might occur once every 300 years.

“I understand from entomologists that blown-down spruce trees are the perfect breeding ground for spruce beetles,” Fitzwilliams told The Aspen Times. “It’s definitely a concern, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

Spruce trees and spruce beetles are the major concern in the White, Rio Grande and Gunnison national forests, Fitzsimmons said.

The beetle previously had caused large spruce losses in the latter forests.

In the Aspen area, snowpack generated slides this winter in areas not known for avalanches, including one in Castle Creek Valley that snapped 100-foot-tall, old-growth trees and closed a road indefinitely.

“Unfortunately, our strategy with the spruce beetle is hope,” Fitzwilliams said.

The Forest Service plans to identify avalanche areas in the fall so the public can seek permits for firewood gathering, Fitzwilliams said.

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