Lawmakers: Major wildfire only a question of time | AspenTimes.com

Lawmakers: Major wildfire only a question of time

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Lawmakers warned Tuesday that it’s only a question of time before a major wildfire strikes Colorado’s beetle-ravaged trees on the Western Slope and they said the state isn’t prepared.

State forestry officials said less than half the communities in the state are prepared for a major wildfire after pine beetles destroyed 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine. They said spruce beetles and other insect infestations have left hundreds of thousands of residents at risk for losing their lives and homes.

“You see mile after mile after mile of dead and dying trees. Trying to do wildfire mitigation has tapped all the local and county resources. We have done what we can at the state level, but they frankly don’t have many more dollars to pull from,” Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, told Hans Kallam, director of the state’s Division of Emergency Management.

She said the federal government has only provided $12 million for mitigation.

“At the end of the day, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what a catastrophic wildfire stretching across those counties would mean. Why can’t we do a proactive emergency declaration and really leverage the dollars we need at the federal level?” she asked.

Kallam said the federal government has the ability to begin disaster preparations at the first hint a hurricane will strike, but there is no similar program to react in advance to the threat of a major wildfire.

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Rick Cables, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service, said efforts are being focused on treating trees near urban areas to limit the potential damage.

The infestation has been concentrated in five northern Colorado counties straddling the Continental Divide and has since spread to the Front Range and southern Wyoming.

Drought and the lack of frigid weather that would kill the insects are believed to be contributing to the epidemic. The insects were first noticed in Eagle County in 1996 when needles on small groups of trees began turning red, a sign the trees had been killed beetles. Foresters expect up to 90 percent of the lodgepole pine forest to die over the next five years.

Getting rid of the trees after they’ve deteriorated is more expensive because the timber can’t be used.

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