Region’s pine beetle fear low

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Despite the devastation caused by pine beetles throughout Colorado, Montezuma County has been relatively free of the problem.

That’s the word from Supervisory Forester Mark Krabath of the Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest.

The mountain pine beetle has been devastating to the Front Range and up into Wyoming, killing millions of acres of lodgepole pine. The mountain pine beetle’s devastation has begun to decline, mainly because it’s run out of food, Krabath said.

But lodgepole pines usually don’t live in Montezuma County. The local climate/geographic zones from lower to higher elevations include: desert, Piñon Pines/junipers, Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, and Engelmann Spruce.

Montezuma County’s Ponderosa Pine stands have been largely unmolested by the bark beetle, and Krabath’s not sure why. He notes these things tend to run in cycles though, “probably every 30 years,” noting the last one occurred in the mid-1980s.

Piñon Pines were hurt by a Piñon bark beetle outbreak from 1999 through 2001. “That thinned out the stands. It wasn’t all bad.

“When droughts occur, or with longer, hotter, drier winters, we’re setting ourselves up (for) more bark beetles,” he said. “We have the density in our Ponderosa Pine.”

There is not currently a demand for Ponderosa Pine logs. Some of that is due to the poor housing market, he said.

Thinning of Ponderosa Pine is ongoing in Montezuma County. “We’ve had timber sales for the last 10 years or so. We’re mostly doing small tree thinning for public firewood,” he said.

The U.S. Forest Service started using a seasonal in-house five-person fuels crew six years ago, which enables the public to purchase firewood for $10 a cord. They also started a “green vets corps.” In this program, veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are trained by Southwest Youth Corps in Durango to help with tree-cutting in La Plata and Montezuma counties.

Currently there are three 6-man “green vets” crews in the field. One crew is working six to eight miles up Hay Camp Road off Highway 184 this week.

“We just can’t keep enough of it,” Krabath said. “As soon as a crew gets a log to the road it gets picked up. We want to sell as much wood as we can because that money gets put back into our budget (for more tree cutting).”

Permits for public wood are available for purchase at the Dolores Public Lands office off Highway 184, the General Store in Dolores, City Market in Cortez, and Cox Conoco in Mancos.