Beetle infestation has been a problem for forests in our area for quite awhile. In fact, officials with the U.S. Forest Service say they started to notice the problem escalate years ago.
"There was a blow down event late in the Fall of 2006 and this blown down spruce became a food source for the beetle" says Tom Eager, entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
Since then, the number of beetles has been increasing and forests on the Grand Mesa have been losing large areas of mature spruce. But the Forest Service is doing what it can to fight back.
"In certain areas, high value areas such as campgrounds and recreation areas, close to where habitations are, there are efforts to reduce the impact of the beetles" explains Eager.
It may come as a surprise, however, that this is a natural course of events for mature spruce trees and the spruce beetle is native to the area.
"It co-evolved with the spruce trees and it sort of acts as a cleansing agent for spruce forests” said Eager.
Although this is necessary to allow a new younger generation of spruce to grow and thrive, the dead trees left behind could increase fire danger in the forests later this year.
"In the long run the intensity of the fire, should a fire start… can be affected greatly by the beetles" explains Eager.
With greater amounts of dead trees following an already dry summer, businesses on the Mesa are concerned that all the elements could come together for a fiery summer.
"We were threatened last summer and it was already dry. This year with the snow pack as low as it is, obviously the threat is there" said Mike Wenner, owner of Grand Mesa Lodge.
There is some good news to this story. Colder than average temperatures this winter ensured some of the beetles were killed off. The big question is just how many of them won't make it until spring. The answer won't come until Forest Service researchers can get out and do some sampling in warmer conditions.