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Governor: Efforts like Aspen’s vital in pine beetle battle

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesColorado Gov. Bill Ritter credited Aspen with being a leader in battling the pine beetle epidemic at a symposium on forest health held Thursday at the Hotel Jerome.
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ASPEN, Colorado – Gov. Bill Ritter credited Aspen last night for being a leader in Colorado in dealing with the destructive aftermath of mountain pine beetles.

Ritter said the collaboration between the local group For the Forest and the U.S. Forest Service to remove hazard trees adjacent to trails and roads, power lines and water conveyance systems is a model for what other parts of the state must do. The state and federal governments don’t have all the funds necessary for the work, he said, so communities must step up.

The White River National Forest supervisor’s office announced last week that the nonprofit For the Forest will lead efforts in 2010 to clear hazard trees from numerous trails in the Smuggler Mountain and Hunter Creek Valley areas and other popular recreation sites. Field crews will cut down dead and dying fir, pine and aspen trees that have the potential to hit trails and roads when they fall.

“Aspen has taken a big leadership role in developing collaborative strategies for dealing with forest health crises,” Ritter said at a conference at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome hosted by For the Forest. “You and the community have gotten this right. Maybe there is more you can do, but you’re certainly doing a lot, maybe more than any other community in Colorado.”

The Forest Service’s national headquarters made a special allocation of $40 million earlier this month to the region that includes Colorado to battle the beetle epidemic.

“We have finally elevated this issue, in my mind, to a national issue,” said Rick Cables, the top Forest Service official in the five-state Rocky Mountain Region.

He is grateful for the additional funding from the Forest Service headquarters, but acknowledged it is just a start for the immense problem. The beetle epidemic has affected trees, primarily lodgepole pines, on an estimated 2.5 million acres of national forest, mostly in Colorado and southern Wyoming. There is a threat of the devastation spreading to areas like Pitkin County, which has largely been spared. Cables said winds initially blew the beetles north and away from the Roaring Fork Valley, but the epidemic is so widespread that the beetles are now working south.

The valley has also been spared to some extent because its forests tend to have more diverse species and age classes compared to hard-hit areas like Summit, Grand and Eagle counties, where swaths of forest have died along the Interstate 70 corridor.

An unbelievable amount of trees must be removed from those hard-hit areas, which will likely absorb most of the federal funding. That’s why collaborative efforts with local groups like For the Forest is so important.

“Forty million [dollars] is a lot of money, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Cables said. The Rocky Mountain region couldn’t fund the effort out of its regular budget, he said.

His staff estimated that $49 million will be needed in 2010, and another $55 million will be needed in 2011, mostly to remove the hazard trees. Those estimates are being refined, he said.

“A one-year bump in the budget isn’t going to solve the problem,” Cables said.

Timing is critical. Federal scientists have determined lodgepoles fall seven to 15 years after death. “We’re starting to see lodgepole fall down, even on days when it’s not windy,” Cables said.

Trees won’t be removed from wilderness and officially designated roadless areas, which have special protections and where humans aren’t supposed to have a lasting impact.

For the Forest will find the funding for the tree removal in and around the Hunter Creek Valley. The Forest Service will direct use of manpower and financial resources.

Among the lengthy list of trails in the Hunter Creek Valley that will be the focus of the tree removal are: Shadyside, Sunnyside, Sunnyside Plunge, Hobbit Trail, Repeater Road, Teapot Trail, Gandolf Trail, Hobbit Trail, Van Horn Park Trail, Hunter Creek Trail, Hunter Valley Trail, Iowa Shaft Trail, Grand Turk Trail, Smuggler Cutoff, Hunter Creek Road, Four Corners Road, Bald Knob Road and Van Horn Park Road.

More information about forest health can be found at http://www.fortheforest.org.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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