WPR News
6:54 am
Tue January 15, 2008

Beetle epidemic changes watershed

Laramie, WYO – Wyoming's climatologist Stephen Gray is cross-country skiing in the Medicine Bow National Forest when he comes to a stand of beetle infested lodge-pole pine trees.

"If you kill off a large number of trees in an area like this, you may see some extra water coming out of the high country because the plants aren't using it," Gray says.

But he adds snow is also more likely to blow away and evaporate in the air instead of melting into streams and reservoirs. That could trickle down into watersheds across the country and change how we manage water.

"And when you play that out all over a mountain range, all across Wyoming, all across the Western United States, the outcomes are very difficult to understand, but we know major changes will be on the way," he says.

Since the region has never seen such large swaths of beetle kill, Gray says no one really knows the final outcome.

Colorado issued a report this week that predicts nearly all of its northern forests will be killed off in the next five years.

Officials expect the epidemic to spread into Wyoming.