A leisurely nature walk can yield a big disappointment for tree lovers this summer. Lodgepole and ponderosa pines are going red and withering away as a result of a raging mountain pine beetle infestation.
Drought and a good supply of pine have allowed the native pests to bore holes into the pine and lay their eggs in the trees for the last 13 years, according to the Colorado State Forest Service.
â€œEssentially a dominant percentage of Coloradoâ€™s lodgepole pine forests became the most susceptible to mountain pine beetle in terms of size and age at the same time. With other stressors on the forest like drought, it set the stage for mountain pine beetle to be very successful,â€ said CSFS Etymologist Sky Stephens in an e-mail.
The pine beetle has affected almost 3 million acres of Colorado land. The dead wood can pose a threat to forests and areas inhabited by people.
â€œThe vast number of dead trees produced by the current mountain pine beetle infestation has created hazardous conditions. The dead trees pose a risk to people and threaten important infrastructure such as roads, power lines, communication equipment and water supplies,â€ said CSFS spokesman Ryan Lockwood in an e-mail.
Recommended methods for prevention include sprays, soil treatments and organic products.
One organic method, created by Berthoud-based company AgriHouse, Inc. and called Organic Disease Control, boosts the immunity in the pine to repel beetles trying to burrow through their bark.
In 1994, Jim Linden, CSU professor emeritus of the Chemical and Biological Engineering and Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology Departments, helped create ODC in his lab.
The U.S. Forest Service tested it in 2008 on southern pine in Louisiana, showing it to be safe on trees and other plants.
â€œIn that study it showed that there was 40 percent more resin flow on trees in the forest to which the ODC had been applied,â€ Linden said.
The studyâ€™s purpose was to investigate disease control, thatâ€™s where it got its name.
â€œChitosan is an organic material from the exoskeleton of crabs and shrimp, and we were investigating it as an anti-fungal agent on potatoes initially,â€ Linden said.
ODC is currently being tested on ponderosa pine but has not been clinically tested on lodgepole pine. Gardening stores currently sell ODC for personal use.
â€œA lot of people are interested in trying it because itâ€™s inexpensive and because they want to save the trees,â€ Linden said.
Another way to curb infestation is through mitigation, according to Stephens.
â€œOne key way to prevent large landscape scale outbreaks of forest pests like the mountain pine beetle is through promoting healthy forests through active forest management that promotes species and age class diversity in Coloradoâ€™s forests,â€ Stephens said.
Crime Beat Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.