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Feds securing money for forest health

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Congress is promising more money to help build fire breaks in forested areas hardest hit by the pine beetle. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard announced earlier this month that he has secured up to $12 million to address the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado.

“We are facing a catastrophe in Colorado and this funding could not have come at a better time,” said Allard. “These dollars will allow the federal government, state government and private landowners to work collaboratively to mitigate conditions to prevent a disaster.”

While their is no stopping the march of the beetles, more money is needed to create fire breaks ” clear-cuts in the forest ” that can help protect communities from potential wildfires associated with dead lodgepole pines.

More funding could also help expand stewardship projects, said Sandy Briggs, organizer of the Summit County forest health task force, explaining that the commercial value of the timber is so low that the Forest Service in some cases needs money to directly subsidize the needed work.

On the Dillon Ranger District, covering Summit County, the Forest Service hopes to plan and implement extensive forest health projects in the Lower Blue Valley, north of Silverthorne, and in the Upper Blue, around Breckenridge.

In 2007, the Forest Service treated about 1,500 acres at a cost of $1.3 million. That per-acre cost is still too high, District Ranger Rick Newton said at a recent meeting of the forest health task force.

The unit treatment cost could come down if a new bill introduced by Rep. Mark Udall passes muster in Congress.

Speaking during a telephone press conference this week, Udall said one of three forest-related measures he is introducing would incentivize private companies to use beetle-killed trees for renewable energy production.

The measure amends the broad energy bill that was recently passed by clarifiying the definition of biomass as a renewable energy source. Udall said.

The bill could make it easier for entrepeneurs to work with the Forest Service and local communities to gain access to beetle-killed timber.

Udall introduced another bill that would cut Forest Service red tape by reducing, and in some cases eliminating, environmental analysis required for forest health projects.

Well aware of environmental concerns about streamlining logging proposals, Udall said the bill is narrowly targeted to lands that are infested by beetles and within the boundaries of a community wildfire protection plan.

Combined, Udall’s the proposed legislation would help forestall potentially serious impacts to Colorado’s tourism industry and also protect water supplies in mountain communities, Udall said.

bberwyn@summitdaily.com


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