Congressional delegation unites on threat pine beetles pose to trees | AspenTimes.com

Congressional delegation unites on threat pine beetles pose to trees

Bob Berwyn

NWS Beetle Infestation PU 1-31

FRISCO – Sounding nearly euphoric after two days of meetings with Colorado’s congressional delegation and top U.S. Forest Service brass, County Commissioner Bill Wallace said high country residents can expect to see a surge of logging in local red zones in the next 12 months.”You’re going to see the majority of those red zones with some fire mitigation efforts,” Wallace said. “The thought is to avoid a catastrophic fire,” he said.

Reducing the fire danger in areas where people live close to beetle-killed trees is the primary goal for the state’s elected officials, who agreed Thursday to work together on crafting a unified bill as soon as possible.For Northwest Colorado Council of Governments director Gary Severson, the meeting was historic and nearly unprecedented.”I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years,” Severson said, speaking by phone Friday from Washington, D.C. “I’ve never seen a meeting like this,” he said, referring to the apparent agreement among all the lawmakers. “As we went around the table, they agreed to form a team. That one knocked my socks off,” Severson said.

“For one, we can expect some legislation at the federal level that would help private industry come in … there will be a market for the products,” Wallace explained, talking about the large and growing quantities of beetle-killed trees available for harvest. “The trees turn red first, then blue, so we’ve got both parties covered. Now we need a bipartisan solution.”Severson said other key points in a unified bill would address the need for multi-jurisdictional projects, cutting across federal and local boundaries, as well as streamlining the procedures for contracting with private industry to cut in beetle-infested areas. The measure would also include some additional funding, he added.Although it’s probably too late in the session to get a bill passed before Congress adjourns, Severson said the plan is to get the bill written and introduce it early in the next session.

And even before that happens, Severson, Wallace and the rest of the delegation elicited a promise from top Forest Service officials to start removing administrative roadblocks immediately.Friday the group met with Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and some of his top assistants, including former Colorado State Forest Service chief Jim Hubbard, now in a key federal role managing state and private partnerships.”With those people, we talked to everybody who is a policy maker at the Forest Service,” Severson said. “They were impressed with the level of collaboration in northwest Colorado and said they would look for any and all ways to give us a hand,” he said. “All of them have flown the area … They all know what the problem is. They asked us to put together a list of administrative barriers. I’ll be working with the Forest Service to get that to them next week.”