By Sheridan Block
The warm, dry months of summer are only a few weeks away and with that, the threat of hungry bark beetles looms over Ouray’s dwindling number of fir trees. As bark beetles prepare their search for new host trees in the city’s forests, citizens are encouraged to take action against these destructive insects.
In an effort to save the remaining white firs and to protect Douglas-fir trees from beetle infestation, the city and local activists are making an effort to preserve existing trees on public and private property.
City staff will be placing methylcyclohexenone (MCH) bubble caps on Douglas-fir trees on city property to protect them from Douglas-fir beetles. From May 8 to 10, the city will also be selling the MCH bubble caps to residents to protect trees on their own properties.
Though MCH is effective only for the Douglas-fir, which is not as endangered as the local white fir, city council and a number of locals in support of tree health believe it is important to protect all trees in Ouray. By applying one or two bubble caps to healthy Douglas-fir trees, the pheromone MCH tricks beetles into thinking that the tree is already infected, causing the insect to move on. Caps must be applied to trees early in the spring before the beetles begin their migration. Experts recommend applying MCH before the middle of May.
During its April 21 meeting, city council approved spending $1,500 for the purchase of MCH bubble caps for city and citizen use. MCH bubble caps will be available for purchase at $30 (tax included) for a package of 10 caps. Individual bubble caps will not be sold. Community Development Coordinator Ann Morgenthaler suggested that individuals who may not need all 10 caps share a package with neighbors and friends.
Bubble caps are available for purchase at the Box Cañon Visitor’s Center in Ouray.
Ouray’s white fir trees continue to be threatened by the fir engraver beetles, which continue to attack the city’s forests, leaving the brown decay of dead firs along the surrounding mountainsides.
While U.S. Forest Service representatives warned the city last year that not much can be done to completely get rid of the dangerous beetle, locals are encouraged to look into preventive measures to protect the endangered white firs.
White fir trees must be completely sprayed with a chemical treatment during the late spring and early summer months. During a tree health outreach session hosted by the city last fall, local businesses explained methods of spraying white firs to prevent infestation. Treatment for white fir trees is more costly in comparison to the Douglas-fir, and residents can contact different services mentioned in the Tree Health Resources packet on the city website for pricing quotes.
Resident and local activist Barbara Uhles suggested that citizens who are interested in protecting white firs on their property contact sprayers as soon as possible, as businesses are expected to be busy as the summer season approaches.
There are several other ways to protect both the white fir and Douglas-fir trees, including removal of dead trees and careful watering of healthy trees.
Regardless of tree type, watering is a very important measure in maintaining tree health, said Uhles. Arborists suggest that citizens follow a watering routine of less frequent, deep waterings throughout the tree canopy rather than frequent, shallow waterings. Uhles also mentioned that a preferred method for knowing when to water is to dig a small hole, about 10 inches deep, on either side of the tree canopy and to water when the hole is dry. Water keeps trees healthy and can help to repel beetle infestation.
Dead fir trees can act as fuel for a wildfire, so it is important to remove these away from healthy firs and properties. Likewise, already-infested fir trees become brittle over time and can cause damage to people and property if limbs begin to fall. A list of tree removal companies is also available in the resource packet on the city website.
Last month, the USFS worked to remove up to 70 dead trees from the Amphitheater Campground to prevent wildfires and further infestation. Additionally, with the passage of the Farm Bill earlier this year, the Forest Service was given authority to expedite the treatment process for forest land that has already been damaged by insects and disease under the National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
In testimony to the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee last week, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell said he received recommendations from 36 governors nationwide, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, for areas the Forest Service should prioritize under this expedited authority. Tidwell said he will respond to governors by the end of the month.
“It’s encouraging to see the Forest Service moving forward to identify and begin treatments of these at-risk areas,” said Bennet. “These efforts will help reduce the risk to communities in the event of wildfire and protect our natural resources.”