Colorado Forest Fires: Are Beetles to Blame?

Photo courtsy of morgufile

We’ve all heard reports on the devastation of millions of acres of forests caused by mountain pine beetles in the western U.S., but could the invasive insect also be responsible for the deadly wildfires still burning across Colorado?

As I write this, the West Fork Complex wildfire has already burned through 75,000 acres of forest in southern Colorado, forcing thousands to evacuate and killing two people attempting to escape. The fire began as three lightning strike blazes that joined together, and extremely hot and dry weather have certainly contributed to the intensity and duration of the fires, but whether the mountain pine beetle epidemic played a role in the worst fire to hit the Rio Grande National Forest is being debated by scientists.

One recent study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE reported that fire risk appeared to be elevated in infested forests, while a different study, published in a journal of the Ecological Society of America, suggests that pine beetle activity actually decreases the likelihood and severity of wildfires due to the thinning of lodgepole canopies.

Strategies to prevent future wildfires while also managing beetle outbreaks are also a subject of contention. One school of thought argues that the Forest Service’s policy of suppressing fires has actually contributed to the spread of the pine beetles by leaving mature lodgepole pines intact.

One fact that can’t be disputed is that the mountain pine beetle population is on the rise. Infestations currently affect 3.4 million acres in Colorado and 3.7 million acres in Wyoming and South Dakota; and the outbreak in Canada is even more severe. And scientists suggest that depending on climatic conditions, the insects may migrate east. We’ll keep you updated on mountain pine beetle, and other invasive insect activity, in future issues of Tree Services.

Toronto or Bust!

Early next month thousands of arborists will head to the Great White North for one of the tree care industry’s biggest events: the ISA Annual International Conference and Trade Show. Hopefully you’ve registered, booked a flight and packed your passport, because this is a show you won’t want to miss. Whether you’re looking to earn CEUs, watch the world’s best climbers in action, check out the newest gear and equipment or just talk shop with your peers in the field, you’ll find it at the show.

See page 14 of this issue for a sneak peek at what you’ll see on exhibit at the trade show, as well as a schedule of events. Also, check out our booth directory to help maximize your time exploring the trade show floor. And, don’t forget to stop by booth #652 to say hi to Tree Services! For more information, visit

Katie Meyers