Stimulus money to boost Colorado forests |

Stimulus money to boost Colorado forests

Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” National forests in northern Colorado will get a $5.6 million funding boost from the stimulus package to remove hazardous trees and improve recreation sites.

The funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama last month. In total, the Forest Service will receive $1.15 billion, with the goal of creating 23,500 jobs around the country ” but no projects on the White River National Forest were specifically named in a March 11 press release from the agency.

More allocations will be announced during the next few months, and the White River forest is expected to be on the list at some point, especially after local officials made a lobbying trip to Washington late last month.

“We’re not left out,” said Jan Burke, lead ranger for forest health projects on the White River. “On this very, very, very first round, the regional forester was asking for projects that would be shovel-ready within seven days. … We just kept our hands down,” Burke said.

By mid-May, the White River could be looking at about $3.1 million for its own hazardous tree-removal work. More funding could also be in the works for backlogged infrastructure and deferred maintenance projects, Burke said.

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During the lobbying session, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation each agreed to assign a high level staffer to a bark-beetle group.

According to a summary of the meetings compiled by Northwest Colorado Council of Governments director Gary Severson, the delegation will this year again try to pass a Colorado bark-beetle bill. The updated version will seek broader involvement from other affected states in the region.

The measure won’t look for any drastic changes to the environmental laws that require thorough review of federal land projects, but will seek “aggressive” use of authorities already granted under existing forest health laws, according to Severson.

Locally, forest experts estimate there is a need to treat about 8,600 acres at a cost of $38.7 million, just to reduce risk to properties in the so-called red zone, where homes and businesses are near fire-prone stands of dead and dying trees.

According to an assessment made last year, the plan was to treat about a third of that acreage during the coming decade, at a cost of about $13.3 million. Any new money coming from federal stimulus funding could speed the pace of that work.

“Colorado national forests are neighbors to many communities where people are struggling in today’s economic crisis,” said Rick Cables, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, including national forests in Colorado. “Projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will bring much-needed work to families, as well as indirect economic benefits from new jobs, to many rural areas of the state.”

According to the Forest Service, the projects targeted with the initial investment in Colorado have the potential to create direct new jobs in local communities, plus numerous jobs indirectly for suppliers, material manufacturers on the Arapahoe-Roosevelt, Medicine Bow-Routt and Pike-San Isabel national forests.

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