Pine beetle team forms in Colorado | VailDaily.com

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Pine beetle team forms in Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter assembled a coalition of state and federal advisers on Tuesday to coordinate the fight against a devastating mountain pine beetle epidemic.

The 24-member council will also help implement wildfire protection plans, look into why aspen trees are in decline and find ways to support reforestation on the state’s 22.6 million acres of forest. Members of the council include Kara Heide of Edwards and Barry Smith of Gypsum.

Ritter said there is no way to stop the beetle infestation, which has destroyed more than 1.5 million acres of lodge pole pines over the past decade and could wipe them out in three to five years.

But he said the state and federal government can protect communities and help homeowners.

“The landscape is and will be altered. It will be important for us to engage in some kind of defense,” Ritter said.

Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said he used to live in Grand County near the Continental Divide for 35 years and has seen the destruction sweep across the backbone of the state, turning green forests into red waves of dead trees.

“We are not winning, we are playing defense,” White said.

He said the panel can help manage the impact by creating incentives for vendors to harvest dead trees and provide grants to help homeowners clear land.

Rick Cables, U.S. Forest Service forester for the Rocky Mountain region, and Sally Wisely, Colorado director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said they welcomed state coordination with federal efforts to manage the state’s vast forests.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he would work with the task force to iron out any federal issues.

“We need to work together at the federal, state, local and private level to address the potential impacts of bark beetles, vegetative overgrowth, fire threats, tourist impacts, energy production and creating future healthy forest conditions on our forested landscapes,” Udall said.