$5.5M may boost Colorado bark beetle battle
DENVER, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter is proposing to spend $5.5 million next year to train firefighters and provide incentives to clean up forests ravaged by bark beetles, warning that one of the state’s biggest treasures is at risk.
Ritter said Wednesday forests are a major part of Colorado’s tourism economy and supply materials for lumber, construction and renewable energy.
“They are at risk from drought, climate change, wildfire and development, and these risks threaten not just our forests, but also Colorado’s communities, economies, air quality, water supplies and wildlife,” Ritter said.
The beetle infestation has already killed more than 1.5 million acres of pine trees.
Ritter announced a legislative package that would provide money for communities to plan responses to wildfires, support forest-thinning projects, create wildlife habit and protect water resources.
It also would provide a revolving fund to support business and create jobs by finding new ways to market timber and other products from wood that otherwise could be a fire hazard.
Sen. Dan Gibbs, a Democrat from Silverthorne and a wildland firefighter, said the state got lucky last summer and escaped a major wildfire, but it’s only a matter of time.
Ritter has also asked the U.S. Forest Service for a “significant portion” of $175 million in new federal funds to be set aside for wildfire prevention and forest heath.
Ritter said in 2007, travel and tourism reached a record $9.8 billion in Colorado, generating $763 million in state and local revenue.
He said travel spending also supported about 200,000 jobs in Colorado.
Fire managers at Rocky Mountain National Park said Wednesday they plan to conduct tests to determine impacts of the beetle kill on fire behavior.
They also want to try to determine if pine beetles can survive a wildfire.