Pine-beetle battle gets $1M boost
Vai, CO Colorado
DENVER ” With beetle-infested trees threatening to add fuel to wildfires and keep tourists away, state and federal officials are stepping up efforts to thin out bug-killed trees with their telltale rusty colored needles.
A Colorado program approved by lawmakers this year will provide $1 million in matching funds to help towns, counties and even homeowners associations thin out diseased trees. The focus will be on trees near rivers and reservoirs to prevent water from being polluted by wildfire ash and debris.
“I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to get some projects off the ground later this summer and fall,” said state Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne.
Gibbs said the money will help prevent wildfires that could hurt the recreation-based economy in Colorado’s north central mountains, which has been hit hardest in the state by the beetles.
About 44 percent of the state’s 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine forest are now infested by beetles, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s more than six times the area infested in 2002. Beetles have thrived because of warm winters and drought.
All but 100,000 of the 660,000 acres now infested are on federal land, leaving the main thinning job to the Forest Service.
The service has been cutting or burning infested trees and spraying trees in popular campgrounds to protect them from being infected, said Mary Ann Chambers, spokeswoman for the agency’s bark beetle incident management team for Colorado.
This year 18,000 acres will be treated ” 7,000 more than last year ” and the Forest Service will target 50,000 acres in 2008, she said.
The focus is on parts of the forest near where people live; stands of trees in wilderness areas will be left alone, she said.
The Forest Service also plans to plant a variety of trees like aspen, spruce and firs alongside the towering lodgepole pine that is targeted by the beetle. The lodgepole grew back quickly and squeezed out other vegetation following large fires and cutting in the late 1800s when mining was the mountains’ main industry.
“The next forest will be more resilient, less prone to wildfires,” Chambers said.
With beetle-infested trees now more common along the busy Interstate 70 corridor, Sandy Briggs, a Frisco-based consultant, said he worries about what visitors will think when they see those dead stands of trees as they head into the mountains.
“Our concern is what’s going to be the picture we present to the people of the world of Colorado,” said Briggs, a consultant for Our Future Summit, a nonpartisan citizens
group in Summit County.
Even without intervention, Briggs said the mountain landscape is bound to change.
“Either the fire will create a new forest or the pine beetle will create a new forest,” he said.