Udall asks feds for beetle relief | VailDaily.com

Udall asks feds for beetle relief

Cliff Thompson

One of Colorado’s congressmen is asking a federal organization that deals with natural disasters help battle pine beetles.

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, has asked the regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance in battling pine beetles, which are killing thousands of acres of trees throughout Colorado’s mountains.

“These impacted forested landscapes are close to homes and property, as well as other recreational investments, such as ski areas on our public lands. If these areas were to ignite, the fires would have dramatic impacts and potentially threaten homes, people and livelihoods,” said Udall. “In addition, if this epidemic continues to spread, and there are signs that it will continue to do so, the dead trees themselves will create impacts related to the tourism and recreational economies of this region, not to mention the long-term ecological damage, even if they do not catch fire.”

The money would provide land managers in the High Country with a new source of funding in a year when budgets are tight.

But the innovative request falls beyond what FEMA does, however, said David Maurstad, the agency’s regional director.

“We share Congressman Udall’s concerns over the potential disasters caused by pine beetles,” Maurstad said. “And we applaud his efforts to

seek means to lessen the disaster caused by pine beetles. However, existing FEMA programs are not designed to address a problem of this type.”

The dead trees become fuel for forest fires, which can harm the economies of tourist towns and damage watersheds. Federal land-management agencies recently have been hamstrung by tight budgets and unable to keep pace with the bugs.

The only solution to preventing beetle epidemics, land managers say, is to thin or intentionally burn forests to create more vigorously growing trees, replacing overmature stands, which the bugs like.

A portion of FEMA’s annual budget can be used for projects aimed at preventing disasters, said spokesman Jim Chesnutt. Earlier this month, President Bush approved a $983.6 million supplemental appropriation for FEMA’s disaster relief efforts.

FEMA’s mission, according to its Web site is, to reduce loss of life and property and protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based, emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

“This (beetle epidemic) has the potential for a catastrophic event,” said Udall spokesman Lawrence Pacheco. “FEMA would be wise to put resources out front to avert the crisis and not have to play catch-up.”

During a recent tour of his district, Udall spoke with local citizens and officials about how the beetle infestation is reaching a crisis situation that potentially threatens homes and the state’s tourism and recreational economies.

Eagle County has more than 30,000 acres of beetled trees, according to aerial surveys. Statewide since 1989, more than 600,000 acres of trees have been killed by pine beetles.

Bug experts predict that for every tree that’s dead or dying from beetle infestation another three more will die next year.

Udall said FEMA is typically called upon in the aftermath of a disaster, but he wants the federal disaster agency to view the beetle infestation and provide assistance in averting a disaster – instead of waiting for one to happen.

“I am wondering if there is anything FEMA can do, perhaps in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service or state authorities, to direct some assistance toward preventing a catastrophe. I would urge FEMA to take a look at this situation and determine if there is any help that it could provide,” said Udall.-

Chesnutt said the agency is best known for its relief efforts after hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

“It is less known for what it does to mitigate disasters,” he said.

“There’s a formula based on how much is provided (by Congress) back to the states to do hazard mitigation.”

When there is a flood, a portion of the relief funds are earmarked for flood control work to prevent future flooding, Chesnutt said.

FEMA draws its funding from the President’s Disaster Relief Fund, which is

funded by Congress on an as-needed basis.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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