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Beetle-kill forest in southern Colorado on the road to recovery

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Posted at 12:55 PM, Feb 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-16 14:55:15-05

BOULDER, Colo. — There's good news for Colorado's high-elevation forests: Trees affected by bark beetles now have hope for recovery, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Researchers published a study this month showing that forests in the southern Rocky Mountains have a good chance of recovering from bark beetles, insects that are smaller than a third of an inch but are known to cause massive, region-wide damage.

In the study, researchers measured more than 14,000 trees across 105 stands in the eastern San Juan Mountains and found that 86% of the stands were on a trajectory for recovery. A severe outbreak of the bark beetles from 2005 to 2017 had swept through 741,000 acres of the forest, near Wolf Creek Pass, killing more than 90% of Englemann spruce trees in many of the stands.

“This is actually a bright point, at least for the next several decades,” said Robert Andrus, lead author of the study.

Bark beetles carry a fungus as they move through the Rocky Mountain region, and the fungus spreads and clogs pine trees' vascular systems, killing them.

Tens of millions of acres across the West have been affected by the beetles, and a severe outbreak began in Colorado in 1996, according to CU Boulder. More than 1.8 million acres of Engelmann spruce have been affected by the beetles in Colorado.