Dry summer could spell nasty wildfire season | AspenTimes.com

Dry summer could spell nasty wildfire season

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen CO, Colorado

DENVER ” With millions of trees ravaged by bark beetles, Colorado is bracing for what could be a nasty wildfire season this year even as federal officials say they’re ready.

Gov. Bill Ritter met with state and federal officials at the governor’s annual fire season briefing Friday and warned that forecasts for a warm, windy summer could significantly increase the number of wildfires. He said a large snowpack this year means more grass to fuel flames.

Colorado’s wildfire season got off to a tragic start when a brush blaze in Ordway last month killed two firefighters and burned 22 homes. A wildfire in Fort Carson 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 February report warned that many Colorado forests are ailing and need to be more actively managed to protect watersheds and wildlife.

The Colorado State Forest Service report echoed concerns recently raised by federal forest mangers about the effects of climate change, drought, insect infestations, decades of fire suppression and increasing development.

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 officials said Colorado’s forests increasingly need to be managed to address the changes. The report calls for cutting trees and using controlled fires to reduce fuels. Another goal is to grow more diverse, resilient forests by having different ages of trees.

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

About two-thirds of the nearly 23 million acres of Colorado forest is federal land.