Senators seek cash to fight beetles

$49M needed to battle tree-killing pests, they say

Colorado’s senators say the bark beetle’s assault on the state’s high country amounts to a national emergency requiring $49 million in immediate spending.

The emergency has begun, said a Winter Park resident who watched a fire burn through a stricken forest a few miles from his home on Sunday.

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday, asking him to set aside $49 million in existing funds to clear dead trees and perform other work to reduce fire threats in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska.

The money can’t get to the beetle-infested forest soon enough, said former Winter Park Ski Area chief executive Jerry Groswald, looking out his front window at the site of the Church’s Park Fire northwest of Fraser.

“There’s still a huge amount of bureaucracy and environmental garbage that has to be done before we get saws on trees,” said Groswald, a member of Club 20, the West Slope lobbying and promotional organization.

The Church’s Park Fire started about 12:30 p.m. Sunday and charred about 530 acres. Firefighters were aided by calm conditions that held the flames in check and prevented the blaze from reaching any structures, but the smoke signaled a clear message, Groswald said: “We were damn lucky.”

So far, the amount of money directed at the threat to Colorado’s forests amounts to “digging up a sand dune with a teaspoon,” Groswald said.

The senators noted the fire in Grand County, as well another that broke out on the Front Range, in their request.

“The bark beetle has created a national emergency, and work to protect public safety, infrastructure and human lives should be funded as such,” Bennet and Udall wrote to Vilsack.

The U.S. Forest Service now is beginning work on projects in Colorado that last year received $30 million in funding. That money was the largest part of a $40 million allocation intended to combat the beetle invasion in five states.

Some of Colorado’s best-known mountainsides in three national forests are showing the effects of the mountain pine beetle. Dead trees, many of them having turned a rust or even red, cover the slopes of the White River, Medicine Bow and Routt, and Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests.

About a million Coloradans live in areas within or bordering forested areas, the so-called wildland-urban interface, said state Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Breckenridge, also a wildland firefighter.

The state also has some 3 million acres of forested land in danger of bursting into flames, endangering lives, homes, and critical public works, such as roads, power lines, reservoirs and trails, as well as watersheds.

“It’s frankly scary,” Gibbs said. “We’ve been lucky the last few summers.”

Much of the $30 million already allocated went to preparing the way to best spend the money to protect property and lives, Gibbs said.

Fire isn’t the only threat facing the forest, Gibbs said, noting that an estimated up to 100,000 trees per day are falling in the beetle-battered forests.

“I think it’s important for D.C. to know our needs are great,” Gibbs said. “Let’s encourage them to keep funding coming.”

Additional funding from the federal government is a “great idea,” Groswald said. “It’s too bad it’s nine years later” since the word went out about the beetle epidemic in the Colorado lodgepole forest. “This is only to be solved by knocking some timber over.”


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