Beetle bill helped, but was a little late

Congress seven years ago took steps to corral the bark beetle now ravaging Colorado and other western states.

It turned out, though, the effort was too little, too late, said Scott McInnis, R-Colo., a six-term U.S. representative who crafted the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.

The impetus for the act was the massive blowdown of beetle-killed timber near Steamboat Springs, McInnis said.

U.S. Forest Service officials were alarmed by the early signs of the beetle infestation and wanted Congress to clear a path to allow the standing, dead wood to be cleared to avoid the threat of falling trees or the danger they could go up in smoke.

“The Forest Service warned about and warned about it,” McInnis said. “The Forest Service kept saying, ‘We have no idea what kind of swath this beetle will cut.’ “

His measure created an expedited process by which the Forest Service could lease bug-infested trees to harvesters, creating the possibility of using forest products for biomass.

It passed when fires in California forests alarmed representatives from the West Coast, McInnis said.

It was at the time “probably the most significant piece of legislation in the last 30 or 40 years” affecting the national forests, McInnis said of the act.

Without it, he said, “We’d have been in worse shape, but we’re still having a heavy impact from the beetle.”

Ultimately, he said, the bill proved to be of minimal use to federal land managers.

“Yeah, it made an impact,” he said, “but the beetle kill got too far ahead.”


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