Dry summer could spell dangerous Colorado wildfire season | AspenTimes.com

Dry summer could spell dangerous Colorado wildfire season

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER ” With millions of trees ravaged by bark beetles, state and federal officials said Friday they are prepared for what could be a nasty wildfire season this year.

Gov. Bill Ritter met with the officials at the governor’s annual fire season briefing where he said the forecast calls for a warm, windy summer that could significantly increase the number of wildfires.

The wildfire season began tragically when a rekindled fire started a wildfire in Ordway last month, killing two firefighters and burning 22 homes. A separate fire in El Paso County claimed the life of a pilot when his firefighting plane crashed.

“Regardless of what is burning or how many acres are going up in smoke, nothing is more tragic than loss of life,” Ritter said.

A report released in February by the Colorado State Forest Service warned many Colorado forests are ailing and need to be more actively managed to protect watersheds, wildlife and other benefits.

The report echoed concerns recently raised by federal forest mangers about the effects climate change, drought, insect infestations, decades of fire suppression and increasing development may have on the forests.

About 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pines in northern Colorado have been killed by bark beetles and 334,000 acres of aspens are dying or in decline.

State forest officials said the forests increasingly need to be managed to address the changes. Some of the report’s recommendations are to cut trees and use controlled fires to reduce the debris and other fuels that could cause catastrophic wildfires.

Another goal is to produce more diverse, resilient forests by having trees grow at different ages.

Ritter formed a Colorado Forest Health Advisory Council to coordinate local, state and federal efforts on battling bark beetles, wildfires and other problems.

About two-thirds of the nearly 23 million acres of forests in Colorado are on federal land.

Rick Cables, U.S. Forest Service forester for the Rocky Mountain region, told lawmakers the federal government has done all it can to halt destruction of the bark beetle, which is ravaging federal forests. He said there is no way to stop it.

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