A U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station study published in October concludes that Colorado's bark beetle infestation is creating more biologically diverse forests than exist today and the idea that beetles are killing forests just isn't true.
Dense pine forests composed almost entirely of mature lodgepole pine trees have been hit the hardest by the beetles, which were able to spread through those homogeneous forests because drought stressed the mature trees and warmer temperatures allowed the beetles to survive the winter, the study says.
What's left behind are entire hillsides of dead trees. Growing up among them is a diverse array of trees that couldn't grow there before, including aspen, subalpine fir and young lodgepoles, the Forest Service concludes.
When the regenerated forest matures, lodgepoles won't dominate the landscape anymore, but subalpine fir trees will as part of a forest composed of more kinds of trees and plants than those that existed before the beetles took over.
In the long run, the diverse forest may resist major new bark beetle epidemics and turn out to be a bonanza for lynx, spotted owls and other wildlife that depend on a forest full of many different kinds of trees.
A separate University of Colorado study announced Monday shows for the first time that the pine beetle epidemic currently afflicting Northern Colorado's forests was accelerated by drought, especially in 2001-02.