Colorado: Don’t cut dead trees, forest is healthiest that way!

“I’m not spending a dime to cut down a bunch of dead trees,” one gruff
fellow said.  “But what if a fire gets started and burns your house down?” a second man asked. “That’s what I’ve got insurance for!” the first man replied
in hollow triumph. “But,” a third man objected, “your fire can burn my
house, too!” “Somebody’s got to do something about all this!” a fourth
man said. I enjoyed my omelet almost as much as listening to a half
dozen grown men quarrel like a bunch of school boys arguing about
whether Billy was or wasn’t out at second base.

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The cafe’s discussion group was, of course, talking about the trees being killed by mountain pine beetles. Colorado’s mountain forests are changing. Dead and dying trees turn brown, and brown forests appear to be dead forests. Dead trees and dead forests violate our individual and collective sylvan aesthetic because we love what we know and we know that trees and forests should be green. We also know that beetles kill the trees; therefore, to save the trees, the beetles must die. In terms of biological literacy, this
is the preschool level of comprehension.

The ecological story of
beetle-tree-forest represents a magnificent connection that, once all
the ripples are accounted for, may represent the most astounding
symbiosis in Colorado. Female beetles chew through the bark and
deposit eggs, a fungus and a bacterium. While the eggs develop, the
fungus grows into the tree tissues, turning the wood a dull gray-blue
color, hence the name “blue stain fungus.” Contrary to popular belief
and even some academic descriptions, beetle larvae do not eat tree
cells or tissues. As with other animals, they cannot digest the
cellulose. Instead, they eat the fungus.

As the grubs develop, they
are discovered by carpenter ants, which tunnel through wood to feed on
a variety of wood-dwelling beetles. Both ants and beetles attract the
attention of woodpeckers, particularly the three-toed woodpecker. Once
the trees die, more sunlight reaches the ground beneath them, which
releases plants that could not grow in heavy shade. Before a stand of
trees completely dies, new growth proliferates, including young trees.

These areas of young trees support much higher population densities of
mountain cottontails, snowshoe hares and montane voles, all important
prey species for the lynx, a species our state wildlife agency has
been working to re-establish in Colorado for almost 20 years. Clearly,
the forest never dies; it merely changes. A new one is in progress
before the old one passes away. The cafe’s coffee talkers didn’t, and
still don’t, fathom this transition of generations.

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Comments (1)

Michael BrownAugust 1st, 2009 at 8:49 am

Just got back from a vacatin to “beautifly” Colorado. Very dissappointed in the ugly forest. Never again. I live there 20 years ago and it was never like this@

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