‘Unprecedented’ unity on pine beetle battle | VailDaily.com

‘Unprecedented’ unity on pine beetle battle

Bob Berwyn
Bret Hartman/Daily file photoIn a training exercise in June, Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Eric Lovgren removed trees killed by pine beetles along Vermont Road in West Vail.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Sounding nearly euphoric after two days of meetings with Colorado’s congressional delegation and top U.S. Forest Service brass, Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said High Country residents can expect to see a surge of logging in the next 12 months.

“The thought is to avoid a catastrophic fire,” Wallace said.

Reducing the fire danger in areas where people live close to trees made more flammable by the ravages of pine beetles has become a big issue for the state’s elected officials, who, at meetings last week, agreed to work together on new laws.

For Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s director Gary Severson, the meeting was historic and nearly unprecedented.

“I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years,” Severson said. “I’ve never seen a meeting like this. As we went around the table, they agreed to form a team. That one knocked my socks off.

Wallace said legislation should help loggers.

“For one, we can expect some legislation at the federal level that would help private industry come in,” he said, “there will be a market for the products.”

Severson said other key points in a unified bill would address the need for multi-jurisdictional projects, cutting across federal and local boundaries, as well as streamlining the procedures for contracting with private industry to cut in beetle-infested areas.

Although it’s probably too late in the session to get a bill passed before Congress adjourns, Severson said the plan is to get the bill written and introduce it early in the next session.

And even before that happens, Severson, Wallace and the rest of the delegation elicited a promise from top Forest Service officials to start removing administrative roadblocks immediately.

Friday the group met with Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and some of his top assistants, including former Colorado State Forest Service chief Jim Hubbard, now in a key federal role managing state and private partnerships.

“With those people, we talked to everybody who is a policy maker at the Forest Service,” Severson said. “They were impressed with the level of collaboration in northwest Colorado and said they would look for any and all ways to give us a hand.”

Amid all the hand-wringing over the lack of affordable housing and an over-abundance of tree-munching pine beetles, a Grand County man wants to send the message that the one problem could provide a solution for the other.

Beetle-killed lodgepole pines ought to be used in the construction of affordable log homes for locals, Randy Piper said before a packed house Thursday evening, as the nonprofit group Our Future Summit hosted a panel discussion on the future of affordable housing in Summit County.

“We’re trying to figure out if anybody is getting smart and tying this into affordable housing projects,” Piper said, explaining that there is plenty of beetle-killed wood just on private land to build a significant number of homes.

In a recent memo to Our Future Summit, Piper referred to the beetle-killed wood as “nature’s gift,” an unusual perspective on something that by most is viewed as a scourge.

But Piper is determined to make pine beetle lemonade from the insect infestation’s lemons, and is moving forward with plans to buy the Granby sawmill and market the blue-stained wood. He said the public and the media have focused too much on the problem and not paid enough attention to potential solutions.

“It’s a disaster, but let’s make the best of it,” he said.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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