Broad political effort needed on bark beetles

Gov. Bill Ritter wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pony up $55 million to deal with the bark beetle that’s ravaging the national forests in Colorado.

The money Ritter is seeking would be in addition to $30 million that the Forest Service already has set aside for the national forests in Colorado.

We applaud the governor’s interest in dealing with the beetle and the forests it has infested, but we have to ask: Where have the governor and other Colorado politicians been when it comes to encouraging a sustainable timber industry to battle the beetles?

The bark beetle has been turning the state’s green lodgepole forest that distinctive red for a decade or more now.

The ruddy forest is so pervasive that some visitors have commented about the pretty red trees of the Routt, Arapaho, Roosevelt and White River national forests. And it makes Colorado’s Spanish name — which means “colored red” — more apt than ever.

To be sure, the governor has flown over beetle-battered lodgepole forest and his administration has participated in cooperative efforts to nibble around the edges of the epidemic. He and others have taken defensive stands against the advance of the bug.

Lots of things have been tried, but the measure that might be most effective — a well-managed and active timber industry — has been allowed to languish.

As quickly as the beetle has advanced across the Colorado mountains, the timber industry — from loggers to mills — has shrunk.

The $30 million that the Forest Service proposes to spend in the forests of Colorado amounts to far less than a full-scale attack on the beetle.

The money is to be spent on avoiding emergencies, which is to say, to clear away dead trees from near towns, power lines, roads, man-made structures.

Academics at Colorado State University have voiced doubts that Colorado can muster the needed industry to deal with the surgical timber cuts the Forest Service now is planning, much less the larger logging industry needed to actually quell the critter’s assault.

After years of watching the beetle chomp through the forest, we now are seeing heightened interest in dealing with an insect epidemic that threatens the ski and summer tourism industries, to say nothing of the threat of catastrophic wildfires on mountainsides covered in dead trees.

The actual advance of the beetle won’t be impeded by the relatively small amount of money that the Forest Service now is spending. Having chomped its way through the Colorado forest, the bug is moving on to greener forests in Wyoming, South Dakota and elsewhere. Those states, too, will get some money to protect towns, power lines and so on.

As to dealing with the beetle in Colorado, we’re leaving the final resolution to fire and hoping to limit the damage.

We don’t mean to point fingers only at Ritter. His predecessor, Republican Gov. Bill Owens, shares some of the blame. So does Congress, under the management of Republicans before and Democrats took over in 2006. The same with the Colorado Legislature.

The beetle constitutes a true emergency and it should be confronted as such by all of our political leaders.


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