Pitkin County won’t renege on Smuggler beetle funds
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County won’t back out of its share of the cost of battling bark beetles on Smuggler Mountain this summer, though two commissioners on Tuesday suggested pulling the county’s financial backing.
They urged letting the nonprofit group For the Forest, which has spearheaded the plan to attack the beetles, pick up the county’s piece of the tab this year.
Also Tuesday, the county’s open space and trails board hastily, and begrudgingly, recommended approval of the Smuggler expenditure – a step they said should have happened before the county committed to the pilot project.
Commissioners and the open space board were gathered for a joint session, at which Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested the county’s participation this year should consist of staff time put toward the beetle project and seeking grants to help fund the work. The majority of her colleagues disagreed.
City of Aspen and county officials met jointly in early June with representatives of For the Forest, the group pushing the removal of infested trees from open space on Smuggler Mountain, flanking Aspen, to slow the spread of the beetles. At that time, there was an informal agreement to proceed with the $87,000 experiment, with For the Forest raising half of the cost, not to exceed $45,000, and the city and county splitting the remainder.
Clapper urged asking For the Forest to pick up the county’s anticipated $22,500 share for this year, and Commissioner Michael Owsley backed her position, given that the beetle project is an experiment that may or may not be successful. Both stressed they want the project to go ahead.
“Should it prove to be successful, we will kick in our promised quarter share in future years,” Owsley said.
Fellow commissioners, however, balked at backing out, and Clapper bristled at the suggestion that her proposal constituted “reneging” on the plan.
“It’s not about not moving forward. It’s not about reneging,” she said.
“I think it is reneging,” Commissioner Rachel Richards responded.
“I think it’s our responsibility and our duty to fulfill our partnership for this pilot program,” said Commissioner George Newman.
“Let’s move forward and stop the B.S.,” added Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
Open space board members, however, made it clear a majority of their membership does not support the expenditure. Both the board and commissioners must authorize the use of open space funds.
“We realize you guys are in a little bit of a political pickle if we say no, so we will play ball,” said board member Anne Rickenbaugh.
“I would think you wouldn’t get members of our board to recommend this again if there aren’t measurable results,” added Tim McFlynn, also an open space board member.
Bids are currently being sought for the removal of some 125 trees that have been identified as holding live beetles from 120 acres of open space on Smuggler owned jointly by the city and county. Helicopters and trucks will be used. In addition, the area will be treated with verbenone, a pheromone that wards away the beetles from uninfested trees. That treatment will have to occur for the next five years, according to For the Forest, meaning future expenses.
The goal is to slow the spread of the beetles, which favor lodgepole pines and have left large swaths of dead, rust-colored trees in parts of Colorado.
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