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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Some Forest Animals Are Benefitting From Bark Beetle Epidemic

Pine beetle damage
Creative Commons 2.0
Pine beetle damage

Plenty of studies have shown how bark beetle infestations have decimated evergreen trees throughout the Rocky Mountain region, but research scientists wanted to figure out how this tree die-off was affecting actual forest animals. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service found that some species suffered, while others benefited.

Ungulates—animals like elk, moose and mule deer—actually did well in these environments, said Travis Duncan with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“In fact, many animals did," Duncan said, explaining that the tree die-off opened up more light in the forest canopy for undergrowth to flourish. That meant grazing animals had more food to forage. 

A deer and her fawn as seen through one of the game cameras set up by the CO Parks and Wildlife study
Credit Jake Ivan / Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
A deer and her fawn as seen through one of the game cameras set up by the CO Parks and Wildlife study

On the other hand, he said, red squirrels were hit hard. “They can’t collect those cones and store them for the winter from the trees like they used to be able to,” he said.

He said that could be a concern for animals further up the food chain. Lynx, for example, is a predator that relies on red squirrels to supplement its diet when snowshoe rabbits are not abundant.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2021 KRCC. To see more, visit KRCC.

Ali Budner is KRCC's reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism collaborative that unites six stations across the Mountain West, including stations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana to better serve the people of the region. The project focuses its reporting on topic areas including issues of land and water, growth, politics, and Western culture and heritage.
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