House candidates for Eagle County differ on beetle battle |

House candidates for Eagle County differ on beetle battle

Robert Allen
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Daily file photoA cyclist pedals past trees killed by pine beetles in West Vail. The beetle epidemic is an issue in this year's race to represent Eagle County in the state House of Representatives.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” As mountain pine beetles continue causing their havoc Colorado’s Eagle and Summit counties, candidates for the region’s seat in the state House of Representatives are proposing slightly different plans.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Summit Cove, advocates securing federal funding for local projects on the forest’s fringes, while challenger Ali Hasan, a Beaver Creek Republican, wants less regulation of local management of national forests.

Scanlan has sponsored a number of bills aimed at cutting down more dead and infested trees, and protecting watersheds and utilities.

“I believe we successfully made the bark-beetle devastation a state priority issue this past session, and I am slated to carry another four bills (pending election),” she said in an e-mail.

As vice chairwoman of the Colorado House and Senate wildfire-issues committee, Scanlan traveled this summer to Washington, D.C., to lobby for $200 million in federal funding to address the dying forests.

Hasan promises to place state funding for pine-beetle mitigation on the ballot. He also seeks to have the federal government relax regulations that he says preclude local governments from managing federal land in its best interest.

“The current pine-beetle epidemic is largely due to the fact that federal government laws will not allow our local authorities to manage national Forest Service areas,” he said.

But some local officials question that contention, suggesting that forest supervisors have been willing to work with local entities.

Colorado and Utah, for example, both have “good neighbor” policies for national forests, said Gary Severson, the executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and a member of the Colorado High Country Forest Health Task Force.

“Local governments can work with the Forest Service now to cross the federal boundary to do work on the federal side,” he said.

But Hasan said the “Good Neighbor Authority” isn’t enough.

“There’s still a bureaucratic mess that you have to jump through in order to get anything solved,” he said. “I guess you could say it’s a step in the right direction, but we need to take it a step further and just remove these laws.”

He said he would be willing to support a lawsuit against the federal government to do so, as “they’ve shown complete incompetence” with forest-management issues.

Regarding both candidates’ call for increased finances, Severson said it is essential that priorities be set.

“It must be spent for the protection of human life, public infrastructure and critical water supplies,” he said. “And we feel very strongly that expenditures of public dollars, if they don’t meet these criteria, then (it’s) probably not proper use of those dollars.”

The infrastructure concerns include power lines and such communications utilities as those serving emergency radios and cellular telephones, which are “all on hilltops and mostly surrounded by dead trees,” Severson said.

Scanlan has said that because of the potential for a catastrophic wildfire to take out the country’s western power grid, the issue also ought to be addressed as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security concern.

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