Tracking the Beetle: Modeling Mountain Pine Beetle Mortality in Colorado

EarthzineDEVELOP Summer 2013 VPS, DEVELOP Virtual Poster Session, Original

This is a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) image derived from Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper of Fraser Experimental Forest in Grand County, Colorado. This image was taken Aug. 22, 2009, after the most recent mountain pine beetle outbreak.

Team Location: Fort Collins Science Center/North Central Climate Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado


Kelli Groy (Colorado State University)

Aaron Sidder (Colorado State University

Anthony Vorster (Colorado State University)

William Zawacki (Colorado State University)


Paul Evangelista, Ph.D. (Colorado State)

Jeffrey Morisette, Ph.D. (USGS North Central Climate Science Center)

Past/Other Contributors:

Amy Birtwistle (Colorado State University)

Steve Chignell (Colorado State University)

Matthew Luizza (Colorado State University)

Carl Reeder (Colorado State University)


Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) has infected 3.4 million acres of forest in Colorado since 1996 and continues to spread throughout the forests of western North America. To better understand the impacts of the mountain pine beetle outbreak on Colorado’s forests, it is important to identify the spread of the pine beetle over time and the resulting extent of tree mortality. This project used indices derived from pre- and post-beetle satellite imagery to assess the spatial extent and severity of pine mortality from the outbreak in Fraser Experimental Forest (FEF). Using satellite imagery from the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 sensors, spectral vegetation indices, image differencing techniques, and a boosted regression tree model, we created an accurate assessment of the beetle’s spatial impact. The methodology from this project can be scaled up to assess mountain pine beetle impacts at a regional scale. Previous DEVELOP teams created pre- and post-beetle forest classifications to identify changes and similarities in forest structure, and our work furthered this comparison and identified the spatial extent of beetle-kill at FEF. This work was a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory of Colorado State University, and the North Central Climate Science Center. Results will aid in local management decisions, restoration efforts, and future research.

Return to the Summer 2013 VPS page.