The spread of mountain pine beetles is slowing in Wyoming, according to a survey from the U.S. Forest Service.
Beetles killed 180,000 new acres of trees in 2012, but only 82,000 acres in 2013.
The Forest Service’s Aaron Voos says it’s not surprising.
“They’ve kind of eaten themselves out of house and home,” Voos said. “All of the trees that were susceptible to attack … have been either eaten and are now dead and dying, or they were able to fend off the epidemic and have developed some sort of resiliency.”
What if the vast stands of beetle-killed trees in the west could be turned into gasoline? A recently-announced federal project involving several University of Wyoming researchers is trying to answer that question.
Most biofuels are made of crops, like corn and sorghum, but this five-year, $10 million project will study whether dead trees might work just as well -- while avoiding competition with food sources.
Saw mills are re-opening in Wyoming and Colorado after a decade of being shuttered. They’re harvesting and processing trees that have been killed by beetle infestation. Still, many are suitable for lumber. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports that this uptick in the timber business is helping with forest fire management.
Wyoming forest officials anticipate another heavy fire season for this year.
Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser says recent warm winters have been great for the pine beetle population. He adds that Wyoming pine forests are full of densely-packed stands with trees of the same age, which makes them especially vulnerable to beetles, and that makes them more likely to burn.