It should have been a beautiful drive. We were expecting a lush green spruce forest. We thought we would be able to stop along the way and photograph the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. Instead we were greeted by signs stating there is absolutely no stopping for the next 35 miles.
We were in luck today because Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado was open. The forest fire was no longer threatening the road and anyone on it. The pass itself should be one of beauty, lush forest and grand mountains. While the mountains were still there the forest wasn’t.
For over twenty miles we drove through a forest of dead trees. There was only an occasional live tree showing its green needles among the sea of dead trees. So why are all the trees dying? There is no single answer to the problem.
First there has been almost 100 years of mismanagement of the forest. For years the prevailing method of management was to try to extinguish every fire that started. Early on this worked in conjunction with logging. Timber companies cut the large trees and thinned the forest while the forest service fought every fire. As time passed logging companies went out of business due to environmental restrictions that made it impossible to make a profit while the Forest Service still fought every fire.
But a new threat was on the horizon that was not anticipated. The population of the tiny spruce bark beetle exploded and they are attacking the trees. But that is what they have done for as long as the trees have been there. They prefer older weak trees and dead trees. They bore into the tree and lay their larva which feast on the trees. In a healthy forest the trees can withstand the beetles and only a few die.
But what has changed to allow the beetles to thrive and their population explode? Only two things will kill these beetles in large numbers; fire and temperatures of -30F.
What has changed is two decades of drought and increasing temperatures. Yes, GLOBAL WARMING is a significant factor that has allowed the beetle population to explode. Temperatures don’t get cold enough in the winter to kill the beetles anymore. The last two decades of drought and heat have severely weakened the trees and their ability to withstand the onslaught of the beetle. With warm winters and more dying trees nothing stands in the way of the beetles killing the rest of the trees.
Except for one thing… Sadly the only way out of this mess is may be to let entire forests be consumed by fire; the other way massive numbers of these beetles can be killed. The entire forest is a tinderbox waiting for a spark. And when that spark happens the fires roar to life and grow by tens of thousands of acres in a single day. And while our children wait 30 to 40 years for the forest to come back they get to look at hillsides that are either barren or showing the first signs of revival of Gambel oak or young aspen trees..
Hopefully by then the climate change deniers will be rare and the politicians will no longer listen to the lobbyists who profit from polluting the earth and contributing to global warming. Until then I would like to force every politician in the U.S. to drive Wolf Creek Pass and view the devastation that comes from their inaction.
Sadly this is not a problem that is isolated in one area. All the Southwestern forests of the U.S. are slowly dying. Each type of tree has its own beetle population that is on the rise. It is not as evident yet, but if you visit these forests look for dead trees. You will be surprised by the number and maybe angered enough to write your Senators and House representative. Tell them it’s time to get off their behinds and point the nation in a new direction that embraces solutions that improve the environment.
I give anyone permission to copy and use the two pictures in this story as a visual aid to their pleas to their Representative and Senators to take action and become more environmentally friendly.