Feds: There’s no stopping the beetles | VailDaily.com

Feds: There’s no stopping the beetles

Bob Berwyn
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

SUMMIT COUNTY – While hopes are high that a snowy winter will slow the spread of mountain pine beetles in local lodgepole pine forests, the word from top U.S. Forest Service experts is that the tree-munching bugs simply can’t be stopped.That’s the message a Colorado delegation brought back from Washington, D.C., after meeting with Forest Service brass and Department of Agriculture officials last month. The lobbying trip was aimed at trying to come up with some funds for forest health and wildfire mitigation work in the region that includes Eagle County. “The whole idea was to make them aware,” said Gary Severson, director of the regional lobbying group Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Making the trip with Severson were Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon, Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen and Frisco’s Mayor Bernie Zurbriggen and Town Manager Michael Penny.

“The Forest Service made it clear that we are not going to stop the beetle,” Severson said. Instead, the focus is on protecting residential and commercial property, ski areas and campgrounds, and river systems that supply water to mountain towns, he said.The Forest Service is not in a position to “throw money” at widespread treatments, Severson said, but the agency is willing to invest funds if they can be added to state and local money.And that means coming up with a big bundle. The immediate price tag for getting some of the critical work done is about $10 million to $14 million, with an eye toward spending $25 million to $30 million during the next several years.

The per-acre cost of treating forests for pine beetles varies widely, depending on the type of treatment and terrain. Severson said the Forest Service offered a ballpark estimate of about $500 to $600 per acre, while Vail Resorts spends up to $100 per tree on work on Vail Mountain. One of the ideas for coming up with the money is a regional taxing district that, like local water agencies, would be funded by property taxes.Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said the economic value of the timber in areas affected by pine beetles is low and the timber industry isn’t equipped to do much work in the area, anyhow.

As a result, timber sales and biomass fuel can’t adequately address the problem, and that means governments in the region will have been on the front-lines of fighting the pine beetles, Rey said. Vail, Colorado

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