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.
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.