Beetles spreading unchecked in Colorado
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
FRISCO, Colo. ” Federal and state foresters said Friday that mountain pine beetles munched their way through 400,000 additional acres of trees from 2007 to 2008.
Unveiling results from the latest aerial surveys at a bark beetle cooperative meeting in Frisco, officials said that the epidemic has spread across a total of 2 million acres in Colorado since the outbreak was detected in 1996.
In Summit County, 65,000 additional acres were affected in the past year, bringing the total to 125,000 acres.
Spruce beetle infestation is a growing concern in southern Colorado, with about 64,000 acres affected. The survey also showed that aspens are declining across about 542,000 acres in the state.
“The aerial survey gives our managers a landscape view of areas of concern, where we can focus our projects and research,” Regional Forester Rick Cables said in a statement released at the meeting.
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Cables said his agency needs more money to protect homes, power lines and recreational values, and Congress could even consider an emergency measure to fund logging for the region.
During subsequent discussions, forest managers didn’t shy away from calling the outbreak an emergency, citing the potential for disastrous fires.
Damage to infrastructure like power lines, pipelines and roads also could end up costing millions of dollars to repair, Cables said.
As the dead trees start to fall in the next five years, they present a huge hazard for people in the forest and also could block access to subdivisions and water facilities, he said.
The spread of the bugs is deemed inevitable. At a meeting earlier in the week, timber specialists with the Forest Service said the area around Breckenridge was hit particularly hard last summer. Huge swaths of trees around the town are expected to turn red this summer.
“It’s moving west,” said Cal Wettstein, acting deputy supervisor for the White River National Forest. Outbreaks are becoming more severe around Aspen and in Lake County around Leadville, he added.
Based on the aerial surveys, spruce beetles are killing extensive forests of high elevation Engelmann spruce, especially in southern Colorado. So far, about 300 acres of spruce stands have been hit in Summit County.
The updated data also showed big jumps in the amount of mature aspen trees dying due to drought, defoliation and aspen diseases.
Even more concerning for aspens is that ground research is showing poor regeneration beneath the declining trees. Insects and disease, as well as fire suppression, could be factors in the aspen mortality.
Working with state and local jurisdictions, the Forest Service hopes to get ahead of the curve, reducing fire risks near communities and removing hazardous trees before they fall.
Lack of funding is still the big obstacle, Cables said.
“We’ve got way more plans … than there are dollars to implement,” Cables said.
“When the trees start falling down, we will declare an emergency. We don’t want to wait until the trees fall down. It will be multiple times more expensive to clean up after they do.”
The bark beetle group was meeting to try and figure out how to leverage its regional political clout for more federal dollars.
Cables didn’t mince his words when he addressed the current level of funding for the Rocky Mountain region. Beetles have killed 3 million acres of trees in Colorado and Wyoming.
“That’s about 20 percent of the area I’m responsible for,” he said. “How do we become more effective? We haven’t received the robust level of support we should be getting.”
Cables compared the funding for the Rocky Mountain region with other parts of the country and said that, based on the scope and intensity of the outbreak, the area is not getting a fair share.
“It’s off the charts … when you look at the risk to values like water,” he said. “We should be able to make a compelling case for more resources nationally.”
Other parts of the country, notably California, have been more successful in the fight for funding, based on the size of their congressional delegations.
There is some hope that the economic -stimulus package will free up funding for more forest health work.
Cables suggested that Congress could act to require ” and fund ” a certain amount of logging in the region, both to treat infested areas and to create a supply for mills and other forest-product industries.
“The way timber sales are viewed, if the situation is an emergency, there are different compelling things that can be done legislatively to ensure a continuous supply of lumber,” he said.
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