$30 million boost will speed Colorado forest projects | AspenTimes.com

$30 million boost will speed Colorado forest projects

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailyA Forest Service employee fells a beetle infested tree while working on fire mitigation near Frisco, Colo. last summer.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A big funding push by state and federal agencies could boost Summit County efforts to clear dead trees and reduce the fire danger around homes, reservoirs and power lines.

State lawmakers said they will earmark $5.5 million this year for thinning and clearing dead trees.

Some of the money would go toward helping communities prepare wildfire plans and to speed along the natural regeneration of lodgepole forests killed by pine beetles.

Also included is a loan fund for private companies looking to cash in on the beetle epidemic by producing biofuels like wood pellets for home heating.

At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service said it plans to spend $26 million in the Rocky Mountain region on similar efforts, much of it in Colorado.

Agency officials touted the need for federal-state collaboration on forest health, with treatments needed on both the federal and private side of the boundary.

That ties in well with local efforts already under way, said Lake Dillon Fire Protection District spokesman Brandon Williams.

Results from each boost in funding for local projects are immediate and dramatic, Williams said, citing the immense progress that’s been made in areas like Wildernest.

Local firefighters will be on the front line when a fire breaks out, and the big focus is to “buy time and mobility” by creating defensible space around homes and important public installations.

“It’s absolutely amazing how much of a difference it makes,” Williams said.

It appears that the federal dollars are a sure thing, said Gary Severson, the director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, after a telephone conversation with regional forester Rick Cables.

“It’s my understanding that the money is part of the continuing budget resolution already passed by Congress,” Severson said. “It’s a great boon for all of us.”

Money is crucial in the race against the wildfire threat because of the high per-acre cost of reducing fuels in the forests, said Severson, who has been lobbying state and federal lawmakers on the issue for several years.

The local wildfire council has identified about 8,600 acres in need of thinning and logging at an estimated cost of about $1,000 to $1,500 per acre.

Several recent developments ” including a steep drop in the price of diesel fuel ” could help reduce that cost and help speed forest work, including the reopening of a sawmill in Saratoga, Wyo., and the operation of pellet-fuel plants in Kremmling and Walden, Severson said.

Reducing the cost of hauling the wood to processing sites is a huge factor, he explained.

The boost in federal funding will also help the agency start environmental studies for the next round of work. Most of the local projects that have gained environmental approval already have been funded, so the next batch of dollars will help keep new forest-health efforts in the pipeline, Severson said.

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