NEWS

Forest Service Beware falling trees in Summit County

Date: Aug. 7th, 2010
Contact: Julie Sutor Phone: 970-468-5400

U.S. Forest Service officials are hoping hikers, bikers and campers don't wind up on the wrong end of a dead tree. As more and more trees perish at the hands of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, people face an ever-increasing risk from falling trees, officials say.

“Because we have dead trees all over the district, we've really ramped up our safety focus,” Dillon District Ranger Jan Cutts said. “If people know it's windy, or they're going into an area with a lot of dead trees, they should be ready to go somewhere else or not go at all.”

That exact scenario thwarted a local forest tour on a recent weekend when Sen. Mark Udall met with Cutts, other Forest Service officials and members of the media to discuss efforts to deal with the pine beetle epidemic. Just as the group made the decision not to enter the forest, they heard a tree come crashing down.

Lodgepole pines, the favorite victim of the pine beetle, have relatively shallow root systems, making them more likely than other trees to fall when they die. Adding wind to the equation heightens the probability they'll topple. That a dead lodgepole will fall is inevitable — the only question is when it will happen. The Forest Service estimates that 100,000 trees are falling every day in Colorado's three national forests most impacted by bark beetles.

“We haven't had any cases I know of this year in the region where people have gotten hit, but we are hearing more and more about near misses,” Cutts said. “It is safest to assume hazard trees could fall at any time.”

And being struck isn't the only risk in a forest full of dead and dying trees. Off-road-vehicle users and recreators driving to remote trailheads on dead-end roads must also beware of getting trapped by a fallen tree.

“Trees can fall across the road behind you, and not every place has cell coverage,” Cutts said.

Forest Service officials advise looking for hazard trees on the way to a trailhead and bringing a saw or an ax to remove any trees that may fall across the road. Also, drivers should park in areas clear of hazard trees that might fall and strike a vehicle.

In general, officials are urging people who enter the forest to keep their heads up and continually assess their surroundings.

“Remember, it's your responsibility to stay safe out there,” Cutts said.

For more information about hazard trees or areas that have been hit especially hard by the beetle epidemic, contact the Silverthorne Ranger Station of the White River National Forest at (970) 468-5400. The Forest Service has also posted information at trailheads and campgrounds on posters entitled, “Watch Out!”