Tree hugger or not, the Colorado State Forest Service wants you to be damn careful of those pines.

This according to a press release from the service warning “hunters and leaf peepers” that large swaths of lodgepole pines in beetle-kill areas are past due to fall and could topple at any time, based on observations from state foresters in Grand County.

“We’re seeing more trees snapping off at the trunk as they rot, rather than coming free at the roots,” said Ryan McNertney, a state forester with the Granby District. He said thousands of dead pines have already fallen over the past few years and foresters expect that rate to increase in the near future.

People who study when trees fall in the forest estimate about 80 percent of Colorado’s lodgepole pine trees killed by mountain pine beetles will fall within a decade of dying. Yet many lodgepole stands on the Western Slope infested by the beetles more than a decade ago have yet to fall.

The odds of having an unfortunate encounter with a 50-foot pine is much better on the Western Slope. Here in Larimer County, the trees have been dead for less than five years, but County Forester Dave Lentz said there are areas where tree fall is occurring, or is ready to occur.

McNertney said a combination of factors can influence when an individual tree falls, including how long it has been dead, its exposure to high winds and how wet the wood remains.

Your own chance of noticing when a tree falls, perhaps perilously so, is much greater during high winds. “But they’re going to be coming down soon, wind or no wind,” McNertney said.

Lentz said the areas on the Eastern Slope posing the most danger are near Cameron Pass, close to the Divide where most of the trees are lodgepole pines, and in the Laramie River valley, which is also largely lodgepole.

The pine beetle epidemic is also affecting large numbers of ponderosa pine in Larimer County, but most of that infestation is more recent.

“I’m not really all that worried about the ponderosa right now,” Lentz said. “But in the Laramie River Valley, that’s been four, or maybe five years now (since the trees died) and it’s getting close to the time when those trees should fall.”

Of course, property owners should remove standing dead trees from near their homes as soon as possible, because of both the fire and tree-fall danger. Landowners should also be checking their forest now to identify and remove as many of the trees infested from this summer’s beetle flight as they can.

Currently infested wood, or brood material, should be processed or burned before next summer. Because the wood is green it will probably not make good firewood this winter, and bucking and splitting the wood for firewood will not get rid of the beetles.

Landowners in the Red Feather Lakes area can make use of the Slash Solution site at 1337 County Road 73C, which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays. Cost for dropping off material, which may be processed or burned in the company’s air curtain burner, are $5 per cubic yard for slash and $6 per cubic yard for logs.

For further information on the disposal yard, call 970-881-3536, 396-5070 or visit the company’s site at www.slashsolutionsllc.com.

For the rest of us, the state forest service has some words of advice to avoid that unfortunate close encounter with a lodgepole: locate campsites and vehicles well away from dead trees, avoid remote roads that pass through beetle-kill forests and carry a saw or chainsaw in your vehicle to clear fallen trees from roadways.

And for goodness sakes, please pay attention to the advice never taken by George of the Jungle, and “watch out for that tree.”

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