Udall to seek cash to deal with trees killed in beetle onslaught

With as many as 100,000 lodgepole and other pine trees due to begin falling daily in Colorado forests in coming years, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., will seek as much as $50 million this year to deal with beetle-killed timber, he said.

One part of the response to the beetle-killed forests is the Intermountain Resources sawmill in Montrose, with which Udall said Thursday he is urging federal officials to make arrangements.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack “assured me he would do what was possible to help the mill in Montrose,” which is in receivership, Udall said during a teleconference with Colorado reporters.

Udall said he is urging the Agriculture Department “to rewrite contracts so (Intermountain Resources) can begin to mill timber.”

Milling timber, however, isn’t the only option officials hope to have in dealing with millions of trees killed by the bark beetle that has ravaged the Arapaho, Roosevelt, Routt and White national forests.

Freshly damaged and killed trees could be converted into biofuels, and long-dead timber could be chipped for use in coal-fired, electricity-generating power plants, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said during the same teleconference.

Time, however, is an issue, Ritter said, because the value of beetle-killed timber for biofuels lasts only about seven years, after which the trees can only be salvaged as chips.

One possible way to deal with the dead trees is to convert them into biofuels on site in the forest through portable machinery, Ritter said.

There is plenty of forest in which to try it. Some 3 million acres of national forests in Colorado have seen beetle kill destroy trees, sometimes at a 90 percent to 95 percent clip, Ritter said.

“Colorado is ground zero for a slow-moving natural disaster,” Udall said.

Udall and Ritter said they hope to show Vilsack the affected forests in hopes of persuading him to act more quickly on the beetle-infested federal lands, but Udall did note Vilsack “understands the magnitude of the problem.”

Of $40 million already tagged by the Forest Service for dealing with pine and spruce bark-beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountains, $30 million was set aside for Colorado.

The most immediate use of that money has been to clear dead trees from around roads, paths, transmission lines, watersheds and communities, Udall said.

Next year, Udall said, he hopes to find more money to deal with the prospect of wildfire in the beetle-killed forests.

Forest Service predictions that 100,000 trees a day could soon be falling in those forest are “a real and meaningful statistic,” Udall said, adding it might be a reality already if forests in all affected Rocky Mountain states are counted.


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