The Beetles Are Coming
Current and Anticipated Beetle Kill in Lake County, Colorado
In light of the forest decimation observed in large parts of Grand and Summit Counties in Colorado, much speculation has focused on the status of the forests in nearby Lake County. Will the generally higher elevations forestall the spread of the pine beetle? Could a prolonged period of record-breaking cold kill the beetles in their tracks? Or is the same magnitude of destruction an inevitable few years away?
At SERC, we keep abreast of the latest Forest Service reports, surveys and projections, and help local agencies and officials remain informed. But we also keep our eyes open—and what we observe is that hillsides of beetle killed pine are encroaching on the future location of our research and production facility in Lake County. The photo below, taken from the vicinity of Balltown (15 miles south of Leadville), shows the telltale rust color.
In an April 16, 2009 article in the Herald Democrat, Leadville District Ranger Jon Morrissey is quoted as saying that by 2012 it is possible that 90 percent of the lodgepole pine in the state will be lost to the pine beetle. Dr. Ingrid Aguayo, entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service, adds that the epidemic is a combination of recent drought with a forest that has an excess of mature and over-mature trees.
In the coming months and years, as our wood pellet and biochar production facilities come online, SERC will be positioned to receive and convert beetle-killed timber into usable energy products. Moreover, if tree thinning is implemented as a means to diversify tree species and ages within the forest, SERC will also be capable of processing this material toward commercially viable ends.
So while Lake County can only speculate on the eventual scope and scale of beetle kill within its forests, SERC is actively planning how to utilize the biomass toward productive social, ecological and economic ends.