During a recent presentation to the Board of County Commissioners, GMUG forest supervisor Scott Armentrout said the threat to the Grand Mesa forest from spruce beetle is growing worse.
Also during the session commissioners noted complaints they have received about continuing trail and road closures on the GMUG.
While spruce beetle has always been present in the forest, Armentrout said an infestation of the pest that has devastated spruce landscapes in the Rio Grande National Forest is moving northward and poses part of the growing threat to the GMUG.
The Rio Grande National Forest has seen total mortality in large stands of spruce forest. On Grand Mesa, which is home to stands of old growth Engelmann spruce, the beetle infestation has been "spotty until now," Armentrout said. But mortality can easily reach "close to 100 percent at epidemic levels," he added.
The DCI reported on the growing spruce beetle threat to Grand Mesa's old growth Engelmann spruce forest seven years ago. On that occasion a blowdown had toppled over 50 acres of trees near Island Lake and elsewhere on the forest creating deadfall conditions ideal for spruce beetle breeding.
GMUG silviculturalists had gathered a large group of forest lands activists to explain the threat that fallen trees pose for beetle infestations. The GMUG wanted to stage a timber sale to remove the trees and was asking the activists not to file lawsuits and block the sale.
In 2010, the DCI reported on an initiative by operators of small, local sawmills to assist the Forest Service in containing spruce beetle on Grand Mesa. Their proposal was to find and selectively remove newly infected trees before the beetle larvae life cycle could complete and produce new swarms of pests to enter the forest.
Their offer ran into regulatory logjams and never gained an approval as the beetle continued to spread.
The Rocky Mountain Region reported recently that "in south central Colorado, spruce beetle epidemics expanded on the San Juan, Rio Grande and Grand Mesa National Forests, and are now being detected on the southern portions of the Gunnison National Forest and on the Wet Mountains in the San Isabel National Forest.
"Spruce beetle populations are rapidly expanding in some areas causing entire drainages to be infested in the course of one year. In some cases nearly every mature spruce has been killed in multiple drainages, from the creek bottoms all the way up to the high elevations."
The Engelmann spruce is the most widespread spruce tree in North America. According to a USFS research paper, a spruce beetle outbreak in 1850 lasting to 1880 killed "25 to 40 percent of the mature spruce on the Grand Mesa."
Region-wide, the current outbreak began around 1997 and since that time has affected at least 1.2 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming, according to an online authority.
Based on results of aerial surveys, the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region reports, "Spruce beetle activity in Engelmann spruce was detected on 262,000 acres in Colorado and 76,000 acres in Wyoming in 2011."
Armentrout told the Delta BoCC that his agency has limited resources to deal with the spruce beetle threat. As a result, areas of "high value" will get the most attention for treatment and removal of infected tree stands. Those areas include ones around campgrounds and other forest facilities, popular destinations, structures, and private property.
"Once an infestation starts we just can't ever seem to catch up," Armentrout said.
The Forest Service has proposed a Spruce Beetle Epidemic and Aspen Decline Management Response plan. The agency also reports, "The Region's aspen forests continue to recover from die back and tree mortality (Sudden Aspen Decline, or SAD) that peaked in 2008 following years of drought."
Armentrout also reported to the Delta BoCC on the following issues:
• As reported previously in the DCI, prospects for a new GMUG headquarters building have dimmed considerably due to federal budget issues.
The hope of a totally new facility built next to Delta-Montrose Technical College is now completely out of the picture, Armentrout said. Other options are possible. The GMUG's lease on its Delta headquarters building expires in 2015.
With a major, ongoing forest health crisis to administer, the GMUG has a library of laws and regulations at its command to employ. Armentrout said the agency is still committed to staying in Delta making it seem unlikely that Delta's 70-plus federal Forest Service jobs will go away any time soon, as one-third of local private-sector coal mining jobs have.
• The GMUG's long delayed forest plan revision is still on hold following adoption of the Colorado Roadless Rule.
• The agency is "trying to expedite requests for expansion when we can" for production plans of North Fork Valley coal mines. A proposed expansion of the West Elk Mine is in litigation, he said. The expansion is being opposed in court by national environmental groups.
• Armentrout said he wants the GMUG to move forward in concert with BLM on an environmental impact study of an SG Interests proposal for up to 60 gas wells in Gunnison County.blog comments powered by Disqus