Senators seek funds to battle beetles in Rockies
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has asked the Forest Service to devote $49 million to battle a beetle infestation that has killed more than 3.5 million acres of pines in the Rocky Mountain region.
Senators from Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter last week to redirect existing funds to treat forests hit by the bark beetle.
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service approved $40 million for the outbreak in Colorado, Wyoming and the Black Hills in western South Dakota. Of that, $30 million going to projects in three national forests in Colorado hit hard by the bug that burrows under the bark.
A national management team is helping regional forest officials deal with the effects.
Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet said the Forest Service should treat the infestation as a national emergency because of the potential for wildfires and threats to public safety, recreation and waterways. The request comes as a wildfire is burning in a part of Colorado’s central mountains considered an epicenter of the outbreak.
“Forests ravaged by bark beetles are left as standing dead timber, at risk for catastrophic fire and watershed degradation, placing local communities at risk,” the senators wrote in the Oct. 1 letter.
Experts disagree about whether trees killed by the insects are at greater risk of burning than live trees. Some researchers say weather – drought and heat – contributes more to wildfire risk than stands of dead trees.
However, forest managers have warned that the trees are fire hazards and that severe wildfires can result in erosion and sediment in waterways when vegetation is stripped away. Campgrounds have been closed because of beetle-killed trees falling. The Forest Service says the toppling trees are a danger to people and can damage power lines, trails and roads.
While bark beetle infestations are considered part of natural cycles, experts say drought and warmer temperatures make the current outbreak worse. The region hasn’t had prolonged freezing temperatures that would help kill the bugs, and drought has weakened the trees.
Other Western states with beetle infestations are Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Tens of millions of acres have been affected in western Canada.
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