The Overlook Trail, which will connect Dolores with House Creek, is getting a closer look from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The area of the new non-motorized trail is critical winter range for elk, and may require a seasonal closure, said Derek Padilla, the Dolores district ranger.
“They are considering a Dec. 31 to March 1 closure for all users, including hikers and skiers,” Padilla said.
The House Creek area of McPhee Reservoir is already a winter closure area for motorized vehicles to protect elk and deer herds.
The San Juan National Forest is seeking a $100,000 grant to complete construction of the five-mile Overlook trail. The town of Dolores and the Southwest Conservation Corps completed the first quarter-mile of the trail from the cemetery to the rim.
Also on the forest, the round-headed pine beetle increased its destructive path in 2014, and is expected to be a continued problem.
The beetle is more commonly found in Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona, but has been moving up into southwest Colorado because of dry and warm weather. They are attracted to pine trees stressed from drought.
The beetle infestation was discovered in 2012 in the remote Lake Canyon area on the east side of the Dolores River, five miles north of Bakers Bridge.
In 2013, they heavily damaged 300 acres of ponderosa pine stands. Last year it moved north and east, and another 200 to 300 acres of pine forest suffered significant losses, said forester Mark Krabath.
A 2014 environmental assessment authorized 3,200 acres of treatment in the area to try and stop the bug’s progress. Foresters will do thinning to increase the health of remaining trees so they can resist the beetle.
A 30-acre timber sale of pine trees killed from the beetle was prepped and will be offered this Spring. Beetle-kill pine is still good for lumber, and takes on a blue hue appreciated by furniture builders. It also is used for firewood.
In addition, 200 acres of infected ponderosa forest will be treated through mowing and mastication to limit the beetle’s population.
“If we can stop its population from taking off and improve the health and vigor of pine stands, it might move away,” Krabath said.
Beetle infestations act like wildfires in a way, with the wind blowing the bug up to a half-mile away where they cause damage. Foresters look for such spotting and then remove the trees to try and starve them out.
Pine beetles are endemic to a healthy forest ecosystem. But they can overrun a forest if the trees are stressed from drought, which limits their defensive mechanism against beetles by pushing out sap.
“They typically hit the larger diameter trees depended on for a good cone crop,” Krabath said.
If the round-headed beetle invasion did get a good run going, it would likely impact the Glade area and potentially effect thousands of acres. But foresters hope it will fizzle out once it hits Disappointment Canyon, where there are fewer pine forests. Most beetle epidemics fade out after three or four years.
The beetle has a one-year life cycle, flying in the fall and burrowing into trees to build galleries and lay eggs. Larvae overwinter in the trees and feed, damaging the cambium structure needed for the tree to pull up water and nutrients. Consistent below zero weather can kill off the beetle.