- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - National forest officials in Colorado and Wyoming said Monday they plan to reopen more campgrounds and change tactics as a massive outbreak of mountain pine beetles wanes.

Workers will now turn their attention more toward removing dead trees to prevent them from exacerbating wildfires, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest Supervisor Dennis Jaeger said.

“How can we get some of the dead lodgepole that still has market value out of the woods?” said Jaeger, whose forest straddles the Wyoming-Colorado line about 120 miles northwest of Denver.

Trees killed by beetles have largely been removed from popular recreation spots and near roads. In Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, for example, campgrounds that were closed while crews removed trees to make sure they wouldn’t fall on people began reopening last summer.

Aerial surveys show that new acreage infested by mountain pine beetles in Colorado last year dwindled to levels not seen since the outbreak began in the 1990s.

In Wyoming, mountain pine beetles continued to be active on about 100,000 acres. That’s up slightly from 2013 but still far below the more than 1 million acres of active infestation in 2008-2009.

Flight data continue to show outbreaks of the similar spruce beetle increasing in both Colorado and Wyoming. Last year, spruce beetle infestation grew by about 250,000 acres in Colorado and 60,000 acres in Wyoming.

Using overflight data to guide decisions to try to get out ahead of beetle infestation was pioneered in South Dakota a few years ago, said Rick Cooksey, U.S. Forest Service regional director of state and private forestry and tribal relations.

“During a certain time of year, you can cut trees that contain beetles and you can get them on the ground and you can reduce their ability to survive and emerge and fly,” Cooksey said.

Public safety remains the top priority and the Forest Service will focus on doing all it can to lessen severe wildfires in areas with homes, he said.

In Medicine Bow-Routt, some campgrounds have been closed more than three years. Sixty-five campsites at Rob Roy Reservoir, a popular fishing and boating destination just north of the Colorado line, are scheduled to reopen this summer.

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