To what lengths should national parks go to combat climate change? Do such efforts run contrary to the National Park Service's mission, to let natural processes run their course? And in some cases, are those efforts akin to turning back a flood with a rake?
Those questions come to mind in the wake of ongoing efforts at Rocky Mountain National Park to save "high-value trees" from infestations of bark beetles. Some forest entomologists believe the massive infestations of bark beetles -- pine beetles, spruce beetles, etc -- in recent years are the result of a warming climate.
In Rocky Mountain, crews a few weeks ago began applying a Carbaryl-based insecticide to up to 5,000 high-value trees to try to thwart bark beetles.
Treatment will occur in the following developed areas of the park: Beaver Meadows Visitor Center & Headquarters area, Moraine Park Visitor Center and the William Allen White Cabin, Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Aspenglen, Moraine Park, Glacier Basin & Timber Creek Campgrounds, Bighorn Ranger Station, McGraw Ranch, Holzwarth Historic Site, and east and west side Park Service housing areas.
Last year, nearly 5,000 other trees were treated with Carbaryl and most of these trees were not attacked by bark beetles. To be effective, spraying must be done annually and applied directly to trunks. Broadcast spraying is not effective, according to Rocky Mountain officials. And since there can be adverse impacts with Carbaryl spraying, park staff are selective and limit use of this chemical.
For instance, spraying does not take place near water courses or wetlands. The total number of trees treated may be less than 5,000 trees depending on site conditions. The Longs Peak Campground will remain chemical free for this year.
Rocky Mountain is just one relatively small area where trees are dying from the beetle epidemic. Because the task is enormous, the park’s priorities for mitigation of the effects of beetles are focused on removing hazard trees and hazard fuels related to the protection of life and property.
For several years, the park has had a proactive bark beetle management program. This year the park will continue its mitigation efforts, including spraying, removal of hazard trees, prescribed burns, utilizing the air curtain burner and implementing temporary closures in a variety of park locations.
Beetle mitigation work continues at Glacier Basin Campground and Timber Creek Campground as well as specific backcountry campsites. Most trees in Timber Creek Campground have been killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Clearing is taking place in both campgrounds. Glacier Basin Campground is expected to be open by Memorial Day with first-come, first-served sites. Timber Creek Campground is expected to open by mid-June.
For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please contact the park’s information office at (970) 586-1206.