Anyone who visits Colorado is instantly taken aback by the impressive beauty of the state. Unfortunately, according to the Colorado State Forest Service, in a recent article, the state’s natural beauty is facing a very serious threat as hundreds of thousands of acres of lodgepole forests are being threatened by a mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation.
The reddish-brown lodgepole pine tree makes up about 8 percent of the 22 million acres of forest found in the state of Colorado. In fact, just last year alone, the state lost 374,000 acres of lodgepole trees. Sadly, it doesn’t look like things are going to get any better any time soon.
“In the next two to three years, areas of lodgepole pine along the Front Range and south of Leadville are expected to see an increase in mountain pine beetle activity,” said Ryan Lockwood of the Colorado State Forest Service. “An infestation of this magnitude is unprecedented in our recorded history.”
Although beetle infestations are hardly anything new, as they have been a problem for pine forests for thousands of years, the milder winters and the drier summers the state has been enjoying over the last couple years has allowed them to significantly increase their numbers. Since the beetles tend to target those trees that are old and stressed, there is one positive side-effect to these infestations: they kill off those trees that are weaker, which allows more nutrients, sunlight and water to reach the smaller trees that will eventually grow into a new forest. In the meantime, however, these dead trees serve as fuel for forest fires.
According to Marion Murphy, who is a founding member of the Sustainable Forests Trade Association, the increased potential for forest fires may also have an effect on the state’s water supply. In fact, she reports that around two million people in the Denver metro area are dependent upon water that comes from areas that are affected by mountain pine beetles.
“Most of Denver’s water comes from a watershed around Grand Lake, which is one of the epicenters of the pine beetle infestation,” continued Murphy. “Losing this has enormous repercussions: no water, no farms, no food.”
Despite the concerns surrounding the infestation, other Coloradans are looking for creative ways to make use out of the fallen trees. For example, Gilpin County Commissioner Jeanne Nicholson lives in a log cabin that was built from beetle-kill wood. Drew Witmer, who owns J+Clay Environments based in Grand Junction, has also been experimenting with ways to use the wood in custom light fixtures and furniture for the past couple of years.
“It’s so visually appealing. It refines the traditional rustic look of pine,” said Witmer. “Using MPB creates industry locally and furniture made with it has a much lower carbon footprint because it isn’t traveling great distances.”
The Breckenridge-based Full Circle Design Group is also looking for creative ways to use the wood in cabinetry, flooring and custom furniture.
“The customer response [to products made from MPB wood] has been fantastic,” said Charise Buckley, who is the owner of Full Circle and who donates a percentage of sales toward reforesting efforts. “Plus, people are glad to see us doing something with wood that’s dead on the side of the road.”
* Above photo taken by my dear friend, Pahmela Lovel Udick, on the Western Slope near Rand, CO.