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US authorities close campsites amid beetle fears

by Staff Writers
Salmon, Idaho (AFP) May 5, 2008
A small beetle wreaking havoc on forests in the western United States has prompted authorities to shut down a host of campgrounds for the summer amid fears that ravaged trees could topple over.

Officials have closed 21 campsites in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming because of the hazards posed by the handiwork of the bark beetle, which is killing a record number of conifers across Western states.

Trees infested by the beetles are easily toppled by wind, creating potentially dangerous conditions for campers and picnickers.

"If there is a fatality in a campground because of a natural event affecting a healthy tree, if it's a freak accident, that's one thing," said Liz Close, recreation director for the US Forest Service.

"But when it's a tree we know presents a hazard, we can't stand by and let that happen."

The opening of an additional 17 camping areas in the two states will be delayed as forest workers seek to remove beetle-killed trees that are deemed a threat to safety.

The closures come at the height of the recreation season, when millions of visitors flock to the scenic Rocky Mountains.

The beetles have killed millions of towering pines, spruces and firs in recent years, with a warming climate aiding their survival.

Experts say the region has failed to register the sustained periods of sub-zero temperatures that once kept beetle populations in check.

By the end of 2007, beetles had ravaged trees across 607,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) in Colorado alone, up from 397,000 hectares (980,000 acres) the year before.

Beetles also are appearing in epidemic proportions in Idaho, Montana and Utah.

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Tropical insects risk extinction with global warming: study
Washington (AFP) May 5, 2008
Global warming could pose a greater risk to tropical insects and other species sensitive to the slightest shifts in temperature than to creatures living in the world's tundra, US scientists warned Monday.

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