If they go unchecked, bark beetles wintering in timber broken by the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown could destroy millions of acres of live trees on national forest lands and private property, U.S. Forest Service officials say.
To find a way to deal with the beetles, the Forest Service is asking members of the public to attend an open house from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to learn about the situation and voice opinions on possible solutions. The meeting will be at the Forest Service office, 925 Weiss Drive, in Steamboat Springs.
"We would like the community to understand the potential effect of a beetle epidemic and how it would affect the community," Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said.
The Forest Service also would like to know how aggressive it should be dealing with the beetles, or if it should do anything at all, Pipher said.
Common ways to treat for beetles include controlled burns, pesticide and thinning, explained Frank Cross, ecosystem protection manager for the Forest Service.
Thinning the forest means clearing it of some trees to make the remaining trees healthy enough to survive the onslaught of the beetles living in their bark.
The control efforts themselves can be controversial, Cross said. For example, the thinning process would require building new roads on forest lands for logging access.
People should remember that the bark beetle infestation is a natural part of the ecosystem, Pipher added.
"Beetles and trees have evolved together over the centuries," Pipher explained. "But it may be a concern to people when regarding human values."
The bark beetle could change the beauty of the Yampa Valley and its surrounding forests and destroy favorite hiking and skiing trails located in the trees.
The effect on wildlife also should be considered.
"We anticipate that, if we don't do something, that the forest will change from an old forest to a young forest," Cross said.
That means animals like the boreal owl and the elusive pine marten that are dependent on old-growth forests will move elsewhere.
Furthermore, a loss of trees could cause problems with watersheds in some areas, Cross explained. It would put more water into the streams, which can mean more sediment causing water quality problems. It also could mean changes in stream channels.
Beetles also will spread to surrounding areas, causing problems in other forests.