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The Pine Beetle Kill Epidemic in Breckenridge, CO

at the Jessie Mill historic site, evidence of the pine beetle kill is evident against the lush green of healthy evergreens (BHA, 2014)

One of the more recent scourges to affect Breckenridge is the mountain pine beetle. This little bugger moved down from Canada in the late 90’s and killed an estimated 1 in 14 trees across over 3 million acres of Colorado forest. The potential negative impact for the Breckenridge community was somewhat daunting; what would become of the recreation and tourism industries if a majority of the forest turned brown?

Breckenridge nearly became a ghost town after WWII forced the closure of the gold mines. If it wasn’t for the Rounds and Porter Lumber Co. investing in the Breckenridge Ski Area the town may have gone the way of the Dodo like many in the area (e.g. Lincoln, Preston, Tiger, and others). Was this in store for Breckenridge’s recreation industry? Fortunately the 10 mile range south of farmer’s corner was not as affected as many other nearby areas like Prospect Hill or the almost complete devastation to the forest surrounding Ute Pass.

Coinciding with this, the potential for a major forest fire is greatly increased with the presence of standing dead trees adding fuel to an already compromised environment that was experiencing drought conditions and rising temperatures. There were a few close calls recently: One was the Peak 2 fire which came uncomfortably close to the peak 7 neighborhood and the Buffalo Mountain fire that almost took out the Wildernest neighborhood above Silverthorne. This jeopardized the summer recreation industry which is becoming as viable as the winter ski season.

The local community and state have added efforts to mitigate these impacts to Breckenridge’s livelihood and nature itself has helped with the esthetic aspect of this dilemma - the ugly brown tress naturally turned grey and are not as much of an eyesore to us and our visitors who are spending their hard earned money in local businesses in order to enjoy the beauty of Breck’s mountain environment.

Some positive things that have come from this pine beetle onslaught are the increased work in the logging industry removing dead trees and creating a buffer zone around areas deemed critical, the use of the beetle kill trees for biofuel and wood pellets for stoves, and also the dead trees are a main ingredient in our local compost production which is made and sold through the county’s landfill.

We are not done with this yet. The new culprit is the cousin of the pine beetle called the spruce beetle and it’s off to a good start in killing as many trees as its predecessor infesting tens of thousands of high elevation Engelmann spruce according to a 2018 aerial study by the state and federal forest services. History seems to have a way of showing us how things in the past relate to occurrences going on in the present. The community has pulled together and is more active in forest health than our predecessors with an increasing ability to adapt to what nature brings us so the town of Breckenridge will continue to be an excellent place to visit, recreate, and live.

written by Mike Kemmler

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