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April 19, 2016 10:03 PM

Annual Bug Battle Begins Over High Profile Trees

Sooner is better than later in the battle against the mountain pine beetle. So the early start by Front Range Aborists of Colorado Springs, Colo., is likely to assure an effective kill on young pine beetles later this year.

And that means mature ponderosa pine trees considered essential to public-use areas will be protected, again this year.

"This is a little early. We usually wait until the later part of April," said Black Hills National Forest timber planner Blaine Cook. "But we want to get these recreation sites sprayed because our campground hosts come in and they want to get ready for the tourism season."

It’s a season they hope will be beetle free, at least among key ponderosa pine in U.S. Forest service priority areas. This year the spray crew will hit 3,700 trees at 28 locations across the Black Hills, most of them at campgrounds and recreation sites, along with a few U.S. Forest Service administrative centers.

They spray the insecticide Carbaryl high into the trees before the campers show up later this spring, and before the summer pine beetle flight, when young bugs seek new trees to kill.

"As the pine beetle lands on the trees, it will kill the bugs," Cook said.

The spray must be applied each year to protect trees. It's too expensive to use on a forest wide-scale, but it's effective for protecting high-priority pines.

"We started at Oreville this morning," Cook said. “Today we're at Sheridan Lake, Other campgrounds like Roubaix, Dalton, Pactola, Deerfield, our administrative sites like Nemo Work Center and Hardy Guard Station that have some big trees. We want to protect those trees from the mountain pine beetle.”

The Forest Service has been targeting pines at priority areas for six years. And the crew from Front Range Aborists has been handling the work for the last four, as part of larger network of beetle-spraying jobs from Colorado to northwest Montana

Company owner Tom Flynn says almost every targeted tree can be saved if properly sprayed.

"We spray at the high rate of insecticide, the right timing, so we’re pre-flight of the beetle, the right height, so the effectiveness, if it's done right, is very successful,” Flynn said. “Half a dozen trees out of 10,000, so if it’s done before the beetle, if they haven't been hit already, they're going to be protected.”

And the summer camping canopy will be preserved, at Sheridan Lake and campgrounds across the Black Hills.

The pine-beetle battle continues outside the priority areas, where tree thinning helps slow the spread of the bugs. Infested trees can be logged and used, if they haven’t deteriorated, and may also be cut into chunks and left in place. That opens up the tree, dries it out and kills most of the beetles developing below the park.

Overall, Cook said the beetle war seems to be being won.

“We’re doing really good,” he said. “The last two years we’ve seen a decline. We’re hoping the decline is going to continue. So we’re optimistic that the epidemic will subside.”

Meanwhile, key trees will be protected.



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