If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?
What about when a tree falls onto a tent filled with blissfully unaware campers?
This is the question being addressed by the Forest Service as summer-time approaches, camping gear around the state gets dusted off and foresters begin to evaluate which recreational areas in Colorado have been the most affected by the beetle epidemic that is ravaging the forests.
As snow begins to melt, campsites are being scrutinized as foresters determine which sites are safe and which sites will need to be closed. Red Feather Lakes in Boulder County became the first area affected with the closure of the Dowdy Lake campground. The Colorado front range can get VERY windy and understandably the Forest Service is concerned beetle-kill trees (that are more prone to wind damage) will start tumbling down, with potentially fatal consequences.
But not everybody agrees that closing camping areas is the best response to these potential threats.
Both Colorado and Wyoming’s governors have urged caution in closing forests and feel that this is a drastic reaction by the forest service. Presumably, their concern lies with the affect that campsite closures would create for the local tourism industries. They are not alone in their concerns either- the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is concerned that closures will distance the public from outdoor recreation opportunities, that will ultimately result in apathy regarding wilderness areas and a decrease in awareness and funding in the future. However, mountain communities do not see the closures as a big threat to their tourist season, since previously closed areas will be re-opened this season.
The Forest Service, however, is primarily concerned with the safety of both campers and their own employees, citing several recent “near misses” as evidence of the danger. Their approach has been to close the most used areas that are affected by the beetle epidemic and ensure they have been safely thinned before re-opening them for public use.
This is in contrast to the National Parks Service, which is also affected by the beetle epidemic, but has said that popular areas (such as Rocky Mountain National Park) will not be affected by any closures this upcoming season.
However, along with the danger of falling trees, the areas affected by beetle-kill are also more prone to fire danger,which is a much greater danger throughout the season. A wildfire started by a spark from a carelessly attended fire seems much more likely than a tree crushing a camper, and to be honest, has the potential for much more damage and fatalities.
So what do you think? Are falling trees just another high country hazard that comes with the territory when recreating in Colorado? Or is the Forest Service responsible for creating a safe public environment, even when that means closing public areas?