Spruce beetle infestation crosses Continental Divide

The devastating spruce beetle infestation in the San Juan Mountains has crossed the Continental Divide, and within the next few years, will spread into the high country around Durango and Silverton, leaving in its wake an expanse of dead trees.

“I tell people all the time: you need to get up there before it starts to look different,” said Kent Grant, a Durango-based district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service. “Already it’s increasingly more obvious. It’s just around the corner.”

The spruce beetle epidemic started in Wolf Creek in the late 1990s, and because of the effects of drought, warmer winters and densely stocked forest stands, the insect’s outbreak rapidly intensified.

Over the past nearly two decades, the spruce beetle tore through more than 120,000 acres of the Weminuche Wilderness, which at 488,210 acres, is Colorado’s largest designated wilderness area.

And recently, the infestation has made its way as close as Vallecito Lake, about 20 miles northeast of Durango, mainly feeding on Englemann spruce trees at higher elevations above 9,000 feet.

But within the past year or so, Mountain Studies Institute’s Anthony Culpepper said the spruce beetle finally found a way to cross the eastern flank of the Continental Divide, near Silverton – a natural barrier that had kept the insect at bay.

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