Bark beetle outbreak hits Yellowstone
Laramie, WY – The outbreak of bark beetles in Yellowstone National Park is the biggest in three decades, at least for lodgepole pine trees. But, when it comes to whitebark pine trees, beetles are having the biggest impact since the 1930s. Yellowstone's Dan Reinhart says those past outbreaks were like fires, in that they killed trees and new ones grew back.
"It is to me part of the natural process. What is going on now is that we have not seen the decline that we expect at this point."
Reinhart says normally cold weather kills off the beetles and the outbreak subsides. He says that has not happened yet. However, Reinhart says he is actually more worried about the impact of whitebark pine blister on the trees in the park. That blister has infected 20-percent of the white pines in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
As for how to handle the beetle killed trees, Yellowstone officials are not planning to remove those dead trees. Reinhart says the exception is for trees along main trails or roads, if they pose a risk to visitors. But in terms of wildfires, Reinhart says new research shows that the dead trees don't increase fire danger.
"Once mountain pine beetles attack these pine trees they have a really short period of time where they may be a little more vulnerable to fire, during that red needle phase, but once these needles fall to the ground, which is really after a couple of years, they become less of a fire hazard than when they were a green needle tree."
Reinhart says he knows this is a different approach than many forest managers take.