Forests of red tape

Here’s what Colorado Sen. Mark Udall was frustrated about this week:

Some $30 million in federal funds authorized by Congress to clear beetle-killed trees in Colorado’s high country has been bollixed up by a federal planning process and, as a result, isn’t getting into the forests to do the work it’s meant to do.

Here’s what an Interior Department spokesman said in response to Udall’s letter expressing his concerns:

“The issues that Sen. Udall raises in his letter are important, and we are reviewing his letter.”

Great. Another federal review should really speed things up.

Udall has good reason to be frustrated, as do people in the communities most affected by the beetle infestation that has attacked trees on both public and private lands.

Udall worked hard to ensure the $30 million was authorized in the federal budget for the 2010 fiscal year. Once it was, affected communities expected the money would be put to work by now — the heart of the summer fire season — clearing beetle-killed trees near towns and rural residential areas. After all, a major reason for allocating the money was to protect communities from fire danger.

Instead, it has been bogged down in a planning process involving three federal agencies that are supposedly trying to identify where the top priorities are for tree removal.

Setting priorities for spending the money and removing trees is definitely important. But it shouldn’t be an excuse for doing nothing, nine months after the fiscal year began. Planning is not an end in itself. At least it shouldn’t be.

The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service obviously need to pick up the pace.

We applaud Sen. Udall for pushing them to do just that. Members of Congress are always eager to take credit for funding they shepherd through Congress to help citizens in their districts. But, too often they ignore what occurs after the money is authorized, or throw up their hands in frustration at the snail-like pace of the federal bureaucracy.


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