Beetle kill to topple 100,000 trees a day

Mark Udall

Trees are expected to fall at the rate of 100,000 a day as a result of a bark beetle epidemic centered in Colorado.

Harris Sherman, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment, reported the projection Wednesday at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on a bill that would help the Forest Service respond to the crisis.

Sherman, former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the Forest Service estimate for falling trees is for a beetle-infested area totaling 3.5 million acres in Colorado and southern Wyoming.

“This is a significant problem that we need to address,” Sherman said.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and state lawmakers Christine Scanlan and Dan Gibbs said the danger of falling trees makes it important for Congress to pass the bill, for which Udall is a prime sponsor.

The lawmakers say the trees threaten campgrounds, roads and power lines, and they increase the risk of wildfires that imperil communities and watersheds.

State Rep. Scanlan and state Sen. Gibbs, Summit County Democrats whose districts have been hit hard by the beetle outbreak, testified at Wednesday’s hearing in Washington.

“I really feel like we’re at a breaking point in the state of Colorado,” Gibbs said.

He said he’s worried about the safety and welfare of his constituents and the future of the region’s tourism-based economy.

Among other measures, Udall’s bill would establish insect emergency areas where the Forest Service would prioritize treatment and compensate individuals for removing dead trees.

Gibbs spent about $1,000 of his own money in airfare to travel to Washington to testify on the bill. He first went there in March, but Senate Republicans invoked a procedural move to force the cancellation of that hearing and other hearings to protest the passage of health care legislation.

That delay disappointed Udall, who remains hopeful his legislation will be passed in time to be of some help as soon as this summer.

“The time to act is as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

The Agriculture Department has made $30 million available for addressing beetle kill in Colorado. But Scanlan said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., has been given an estimate that as much as $50 to $100 million will be needed each year for at least the next three years to deal with the problem.


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