A pine beetle infestation is spreading from the mountains into southern Wyoming and the Front Range, and all of Colorado’s mature lodgepole pine forests will be killed within three to five years, state and federal officials said Monday. The bark beetle infestation ravaged 500,000 new acres of forests in Colorado in 2007, bringing the total infestation to 1.5 million acres – almost all of state’s lodgepole forests – according to the latest aerial survey. The infestation has now worked its way north and east, including an increase of more than 1,500 percent in the acreage affected in Boulder and Larimer counties.

“That’s a pretty staggering thought,” Susan Gray, group leader of Forest Health Management for the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, said of the statewide figures that the official news release called a “catastrophic event.” “That is going to have an effect on wildlife habitat, watersheds and everything that is dependent on lodgepole pine forests.”

Bill Crapser, state forester for Wyoming, said that 85 percent to 90 percent of the mature lodgepole pine – about 750,000 acres – will be dead in the Medicine Bow Mountains of southern Wyoming in the next three to five years.

The result of the devastation will be a landscape much like that of Yellowstone National Park after the fires that ravaged the forests there in 1988, said Rick Cables, Rocky Mountain regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

The Colorado forest will regenerate, he said, with lodgepole saplings perhaps reaching knee-to-waist height in 10 years.

“Our ultimate goal is to create more resilient forests that thrive under the pressures of our changing climate and ever-evolving human activities and pressures,” said Cables. “What we are trying to do is create a diversity of age classes in these forests so that one insect or pathogen cannot destroy an entire forest at once.

“One of the things that is going on in Colorado is our forests are ready to regenerate. They are old. And if you look at the many different species – aspen, spruce, lodgepole – they all have one thing in common. They are old.”

The state has 1.7 million acres of lodgepole forests.

The pine beetles have reached “epidemic proportions” on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, said spokesperson Kyle Patterson.

“It is an epidemic in the whole area (of northern Colorado), and we are one small part of it,” she said.

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