Runyon part of group lobbying for beetle bill |

Runyon part of group lobbying for beetle bill

Scott N. Miller
Daily file photo This aerial shot of the forest near Vail shows an area where trees were killed by mountain pine beetles.

EAGLE COUNTY – In a political atmosphere where a cry of “up!” from one side brings a reflexive “down!” from the other, agreement can be hard to come by. But a group of local officials will try to find some common ground in Washington D.C. next week.The group, made up of county commissioners and other officials from most of the mountain counties in northwest Colorado, is headed back east next week to talk to federal officials about the bark beetle infestations in the area. What they hope to come back with is common ground.At the moment, there are a pair of bills churning through the federal legislative mill. One is sponsored by Republican Senator Wayne Allard. The other is co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, who represents Summit, Eagle and Grand counties, and Democratic Senator Ken Salazar.”They’re both good bills,” said Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon. “But there are better points in each one.”I don’t want this to be a political issue,” Runyon added. “This affects all of Colorado, so we don’t need political grandstanding. We need effort.”In an election year, though, bipartisan effort on a bill to help mountain counties might be hard to come by.”Realistically, there’s not much chance of getting something this year,” Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said. “If we can come to an agreement on a common bill, then we can start in the next session.”Federal help to thin out hundreds of thousands of acres killed by beetles will be the start of a process that could take decades.

“We have a timber sale north of the Henderson Mill that’s the largest we’ve had in years, and it’s a drop in the bucket,” Grand County Commissioner Duane Daily said. “We could do 50 times that much.”Grand County is perhaps the hardest-hit area in the state, with almost 300,000 acres of beetle-killed timber.”We’ve been devastated,” Dailey said.All the officials interviewed said cutting out every beetle-killed tree is virtually impossible. But all said the counties need to encourage more logging, they said.But that’s going to require some changed attitudes. Beetle-killed timber is just as solid as a healthy tree, Daily said. But beetles turn wood a blue tint that apparently is unpopular with contractors and builders.Daily said Grand County is trying to change that perception.”Our new courthouse is going to have the blue-tinted timber for the wainscoting,” he said. “It looks really good.”Beside the marketplace, many locals will have to become more welcoming to loggers.”Over the last 20 years citizens here have done their best to tell the forest industry to go away,” Runyon said. “I’ll admit that I’ve been among them. But we’re going to have to involve the forest industry in this.”

That means, probably, providing either tax breaks or grants to companies that come in to take out beetle-killed timber. Part of that effort will require the federal government to lengthen contracts with loggers and other vendors.At the moment, companies can sign contracts for a maximum of a few years. Wallace said those contracts need to run for at least a decade.If a federal bill does get passed, it will probably be expensive. But, Wallace said, federal lawmakers need to recognize the importance of the problem.”Eagle, Summit and Grand counties is where the Colorado River starts,” Wallace said. “If these forests burn, what’s the impact on that watershed going to be?”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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