by Kate Strathdee
Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp, Divide, Colo., recently suffered damage from spruce beetles. With the help of Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers, the camp removed over 400 trees–minimizing both a fire and a falling hazard.
Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp is an overnight camp in the heart of the Pike Forest that serves children, youth, adults and families. “Retreat in community and God’s creation,” is the camp’s mission statement. But running a camp also requires managing the land in ways that keep visitors safe, and this can require time, money and discernment. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all parts of Colorado are currently dealing with some level of drought, and this requires adaptation.
A situation involving the camp’s Englemann spruce trees is a recent example. In 2015, when the staff and volunteers at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp were shutting the campground down for the winter, they checked the status of the mature Engelmann spruce trees on the property. They seemed to be healthy. When the staff returned in the spring of 2016, a surprising number were dead.
Englemann spruce trees are hosts for Dendroctonus rufipennis, a native bark beetle that kills the trees. According to the Colorado State Forest Service, long-term droughts and warmer temperatures have made spruce beetles more of a problem in recent years. The dead Englemann spruce became a fire and falling hazard and it was crucial that the camp take action.
In the fall of 2021, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers came to Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp, joining workers from the neighboring Pike National Forest to help remove about 400 spruce trees. In addition to removing the trees, the camp purchased pheromone packages to lure beetles away from the trees. They also stripped bark from logs that stayed at the camp and sold other logs to a lumber mill that stripped the bark in order to interrupt the beetles’ reproductive cycle. Smaller tree parts went through a chipper to minimize fire danger.
The camp is grateful for the work, effort and time that the volunteers put into making camp a safe place. “MDS has been an important partner, helping camp hopefully reduce the effects of or avoid a fire disaster,” says Corbin Graber, the executive director of RMMC. Getting professional tree cutters to manage the forest is incredibly expensive: it costs about $1200 to cut down just one tree and cut up and remove the fuel.
Because the diseased trees were removed, the situation has improved.“Our 2021 tree survey only identified two trees to cut and ten to watch for beetle infestation: good news indeed!” says Graber. However, a large beetle infestation will likely not be a one-time ordeal. According to the State Forest Service, this tends to occur every decade.
Increasing tree diversity
Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp wants to ensure that they do all they can to reduce the risk of fire hazards and still ensure that the forest is healthy. “We are trying to increase tree diversity in and around camp facilities by preserving Douglas Fir Trees, Limber Pine, Bristlecone Pines and Aspens as we do this work.
“How do we best live with and join nature in the work she is doing with the work we are doing for mutually desired outcomes? ” asks Graber. The staff and volunteers at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp will continue to wrestle with this question. They want to take care of the health of the forest while ensuring that a camp is a safe place where people of all ages can engage fully with the beauty of God’s creation.
If you are interested in learning more about the project, contact Corbin Graber (executive director, email@example.com) or Tom Unruh (facilities/special projects coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Kate Strathdee is a senior at Carlton College in Ottawa, Ont. She recently completed an assignment with Mennonite Creation Care Network as social media coordinator.