Beetle-battered trees to be removed with help from federal stimulus grant
Seven Colorado state parks, including three on the Western Slope, will benefit from a $647,400 grant through funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The grant, provided by the Colorado State Forest Service, will employ crews from the Colorado Youth Corps Association to thin and remove dead and dying trees killed during the ongoing bark beetle epidemic.
Up to 78 workers will be hired during the next 17 months in seasonal and full-time positions, according to Gary Thorson, deputy director of Colorado State Parks.
Thorson said the projects “will protect park visitors and adjacent landowners while stimulating the local economies by addressing the wildland fire risks posed by the beetle epidemic.”
Projects are planned for Golden Gate Canyon State Park, State Forest State Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Cheyenne Mountain State Park and Sylvan Lake State Park, all of which are open to the public.
Projects will take place at Staunton State Park, 45 miles southwest of Denver, which is under development and not yet open to the public, and Lone Mesa State Park in Dolores County, which is open on a limited basis during part of the year.
“These projects, which will benefit our visitors, would have been postponed without the funding and the crews,” said Dean Winstanley, director of Colorado State Parks.
This won’t be the first time federal funds have been used to remove beetle-killed trees. Earlier this year, the Forest Service launched a massive campaign using contract and prison crews to down “hazard trees” on federal lands.
The project includes work on the White River National Forest along with a $15 million hazard-tree-removal effort targeting dead trees in the Arapaho-Roosevelt and Medicine Bow-Routt forests.
The total area accounts for about 4.2 million acres across western Colorado.
Liability issues drive the project, forest officials said.
Helena (Mont.) National Forest District Ranger Duane Harp warned skiers last week in the Helena (Mont.) Independent Register that beetle-killed trees “can come down any time.”
Harp cautioned skiers to practice common-sense when out on the trail, including don’t linger in areas with dead trees.
“Wherever you are in the national forest, regardless of whether you’re on a ski trail or not, you need to be aware of it, ” Harp said.
About 30 employees of Rogue Resources of Steamboat Springs started downing an estimated 40,000 dead and dying trees last summer in and around Seedhouse Campground in northern Routt County.
Forest Service officials also cautioned cross-country skiers to remain cautious when skiing in areas where dead trees are encountered.
Federal officials also are concerned about the dangers posed by dead trees to wildfire fighters.
U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Tony Tezak, speaking last summer at a wildfire workshop in Steamboat Springs, said he was not willing to risk walking firefighters out among hundreds of dead and dangerous trees to save a few dead trees in the middle.
“What the beetle kill has done to us is, when the winds blow, the risk of snags falling is greatly increased,” he said, referring to dead trees that can fall and injure or kill firefighters.
The risk of fires also has increased because those dead trees ignite far easier than live, wet wood.
Federal and state forestry officials say that at current rates, mountain pine beetles will kill the majority of Colorado’s large-diameter lodgepole pine forests within three to five years.