Beetle cover article only bark deep |

Beetle cover article only bark deep

Todd Stewart
Todd Stewart

It’s important for a community newspaper to publish stories having relevance for the local readership, as your recent cover article on beetle infestation did well, by relating the tragic loss of area trees to our economy and fire risk. What I found the article sadly missed was the opportunity to dig beyond the protective bark of this issue and penetrate the Vail Valley’s educated, and resource-full stakeholders with hope and practical steps toward a long-term resolution to this and many other natural disasters affecting our home planet.

Perhaps your intent was to keep the article focused locally, but beyond our blessed community, it may interest your readers to know that this is not just our problem, nor just the surrounding Grand and Summit counties, nor just the talk of many neighboring states ” from Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska to California and Wyoming ” nor is the alarm heard only throughout Canada’s provinces with British Columbia and Alberta facing forest losses far beyond those in our country, but the alarm is rising in the ears of every self-aware, inquisitive citizen who cares to accept leading scientific understanding of environmental systems.

The direct link between tree health and bark beetle outbreaks is well established, as is the fact that much of western North America and beyond has experienced a prolonged drought and resulting tree weakness. The beetles can only penetrate a tree beginning to die. They act more as a mortician than a murderer. If the beetle is playing its natural role, what part of the system is out of balance? This is where journalism gets difficult, and where responsible journalism must go in order to inform and guide a people seeking solutions and leadership. The real digging starts when we ask how human activity is contributing to drought and global climate crisis. Are we helping to kill the trees, and if so, how can we help them thrive?

Yes, it’s a deep personal challenge to embrace a question whose answer could choke all hope from our children’s innocent eyes, but clinging to comfort by not asking is far more dangerous than the risk of asking – and attempting solutions. I, and many, many more in the world, have confirmed our role in the problems and are focused on long-term balancing of economic, social and environmental systems. I’ll offer a few solutions that I already see happening, and could be accelerated, that give us all hope for a “soft landing” from our over-extended natural resource binge and will help keep our trees healthy and less susceptible to the beetles’ natural activity.

City mayors around the country have signed onto the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement representing more than 50 million people committed to reducing greenhouse gasses and thereby giving nature a fighting chance at balance. Some cities on the list include Aspen, Basalt, Crested Butte, Frisco, New York and Hollywood. Vail can add this step to its planning objectives as a move toward protecting all trees.

The newly implemented green building program in the valley is also a step in the right direction. Setting higher energy efficiency standards for buildings, motors, appliances, and lighting, is by far the cheapest and fastest way to reduce energy use – hence reducing greenhouse gasses.

With such powerful and wealthy citizens and leaders in our community, surely we could be one of the first towns in the country to declare independence from fossil fuels. Solar, micro-hydro, wind and geothermal resources are all developable energy alternatives in our area. Towns all over the world are doing just that right now with less to work with than we have. Our leading example and a strongly articulated community belief in energy independence can carry a powerful message to state government and beyond. Indeed, I believe the power of leadership is our very best tool and one that we have the great privilege and responsibility to exercise. Besides, do we really want Aspen to beat us to it?

Yes, solutions are often complicated and take time to implement, but old policies and thinking, over time, have gotten us here and new thinking can deliver change and long-lasting benefits. I, for many, am rooted in the knowledge that solutions do exist for every problem, even millions of dead trees. And I choose to live a life thriving on greater knowledge, and better solutions. I look forward to this newspaper more fully embracing its opportunity to inform and lead us all.

Todd Stewart is an Edwards resident. Send comments about this column to

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