Battle of the Bug: Fighting the Pine Beetle in Colorado’s High Country

Battle of the Bug: Fighting the Pine Beetle in Colorado’s High Country 1I’ve been fighting a little bug lately. Uh, no, I feel fine, thanks. The bug is the mountain pine beetle, scourge of the Colorado high country, munching through our alpine forests like Grant went through Richmond.

From Canada to Mexico and California to Colorado, every single pine tree is threatened and countless millions have died. Global warming and an accompanying drought have stressed the trees to the point that they are easy prey to this tiny insect. Can there really be any debate on global warming in light of all the hot air coming out of our nation’s capitol?

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When spraying for the pine beetle, it’s helpful if you can hold your breath for a couple of weeks.

OK, how bad are they? Incidentally, we’ve dropped politics and are back on the beetles. Well, I’m sure a clerical error left the pine beetle out of the 10 plagues of the Bible, probably somewhere between the frogs and the locusts and just after the boils and the hailstorms.

There are lots of different ways to deal with them. One of my roommates in college made a lot of money selling a universal insecticide through the mail. He guaranteed it to be 100% effective against every insect known to man. When suckers, excuse me, customers, bought his expensive mail-order product, he would faithfully mail back to them two small blocks cut from an ordinary pine two-by-four.

One block was hand-lettered “A” the other “B”. The enclosed instructions were simple, consisting of one line: “Place bug on block “A” and whack with block “B” repeating as necessary.” I lost track of him after graduation but his name was Kenneth Lay and the senior class voted him “most likely to be going places.” I keep expecting his name will crop up in the news some day.

Because there is a vast divergence of opinion as to the best solution to the beetle infestation, a bunch of guys in the neighborhood got together to brainstorm and drink beer in an attempt to figure out the best way to doze on the sofa and ignore the problem.

This is the same tactic we always turn to when threatened by grizzlies or list-bearing spouses. After much “discussion” we all decide that the adult thing to do is to try to run the beetles down with our cars. So thrilled are we by finally having come up with a sensible plan that we do the obvious thing and take up a collection for more beer.

For the last few years, my wife and I decided that we would be proactive and spray every tree on the entire 10,000 acres of our heavily wooded back yard. The county thinks it’s a 2-acre lot but when you’re spraying every tree, believe me, it’s a lot bigger than you think.

Sisyphus was the guy in Greek mythology who spent eternity rolling a rock up a hill, but at the top it slipped out of his grasp, rolled back down to the bottom and he had to start over again. Too bad he’s still busy because this experience would be very valuable when it comes to spraying trees.

Of course, you can’t spray the trees with, oh say, lemonade and expect the beetles to stay away. No, you have to use toxic chemicals with a list of precautions that start, “Do not attempt to have children after using this product.” Never mind that you’re spewing it like a fire hose all around your property, you’re heavily cautioned not to get any on your skin.

So you have to layer up with protective gear, Tyvex suits, rubber gloves, goggles, respirator and life insurance. It’s also helpful if you can hold your breath for a couple of weeks. My wife and I have to help each other get suited up so we can walk around the yard like the Pillsbury Dough Family.

Good as they are, a SuperSoaker squirt gun won’t quite cut it, which is too bad because it would make a great fun project for a bunch of pre-schoolers. Instead, you have to buy a big tank on a cart with a battery-powered pump that will spray a jet of insecticide hard enough to knock your neighbor on his butt if he’s foolish enough to step outside to see what all the racket’s about.

So armed, then you can stumble around the yard like a human fountain run amok, spraying horrid chemicals straight up into the air and watching them fall straight back down on your goggles while they start eating big, smoking holes in your protective suit.

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How do you know they weren’t spraying lemonade?

Contractors will spray them for you while you stay safely inside dozing fitfully on the sofa. Who could sleep easily knowing that it’s costing you about ten bucks a tree? Five hundred trees, five thousand bucks; you fork it over and you won’t know if it worked for about a year. How do you know they weren’t spraying lemonade? Doing it yourself at least brings the satisfaction that you’ll never have children to put through college.

Jon de Vos, who lives near Fraser, took a one-month job at a ski lodge in Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), after graduating from Arizona State University in 1973. He intended to head for law school in the fall semester. That was 33 years ago. “Colorado saved my life,” he says.