Colorado's beetle-infested forests are peppered with an estimated 834 million standing dead trees that threaten to worsen wildfires and degrade vital water supplies that flow from mountains, officials say. Roughly one in every 14, or about 7%, standing trees in the state's forests is dead, with the total up 30% in seven years, though officials are working to remove them, the State Forest Service said Wednesday in an annual report, per the AP. "Is it something to be alarmed about? Of course it is," State Forester Mike Lester says, noting infestations of mountain pine beetles and spruce beetles are the main cause of the die-off. Beetles are native to the state but have caused far more damage than normal over the past 20 years, attacking more than 20% of total forested land.
Lester and others blame a combination of warmer weather that allows beetles to survive the winter and trees left more vulnerable because of age and stress from severe droughts in the past. Although the pine beetle epidemic has subsided, spruce beetles are still spreading. The course of that outbreak will determine whether the tree die-off worsens or levels off, Lester says. Standing and fallen trees killed by beetles can make wildfires burn longer and in some cases hotter. Wildfires, in turn, threaten to worsen erosion, which can load rain and melting snow with silt, change the timing of that spring runoff, and reduce the capacity of reservoirs when the sediment settles to the bottom, disrupting water supplies for cities, the report says. (Read more Colorado stories.)