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Pine Beetle infestation, shorter winters leading to pollution, fire risk, health issues in Colorado

Posted at 8:31 PM, Mar 15, 2018

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The pine beetle infestation, coupled with warmer/shorter winters and drought, is causing more pollution, fire risk and health concerns for the state of Colorado.

Colorado State Forester Mike Lester said over the last 20 years, "5.4 million acres have been affected with significant levels of (tree) mortality."

He said that, in turn, contributes to air pollution because there are fewer trees to filter the air.

"Beetles have always been here," he said, "but cold weather always kept them in check."

He said we don't see temperatures dropping down to 35 degrees below zero much anymore.

"I think it's safe to say that when we have those cold temperatures, the outbreaks don't occur as often, or as severely."

Fire and Health Concerns

When asked if all the dead trees were a "forest fire waiting to happen," Lester said that "just because we've got all the dead trees doesn't mean it's more likely to burn, but when it does burn, it's harder to predict. Harder to fight. Harder to get firefighters into the areas where the trees are susceptible to falling."

That means fires may last longer.

CU-Boulder researcher Colleen Reid told Denver7 that large, prolonged wildfires have a big impact on health.

"All of us are really affected," she said, "but the people with respiratory illnesses are the ones who feel it the most."

People like Chris Diaz.

Last summer, Diaz told Denver7 that he has a congenital lung defect, and that when the ozone level rises or there is smoke in the air, he feels it.

"I did have shortness of breath," he said, "When I move, it's like resistence."

Lester said the health of our forests is really important.

"It's important for clean air, clean water, recreation and wildlife habitat," he said. "Forests produce carbon sequestration (capturing and storing carbon dioxide). That is what our forests bring us and we're going to have to maintain our forests to keep them healthy."