State huddles to map out war on beetles devastating forests | AspenTimes.com

State huddles to map out war on beetles devastating forests

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

GRANBY, Colo. ” Amid mountains covered by ailing, rust-colored pines, about 100 people pored over maps and discussed priorities Thursday in the battle to slow the spread of forest-killing beetles and clean up the destruction.

The Colorado Bark Beetle Cooperative is helping shape the U.S. Forest Service’s strategy for dealing with more than 1,000 square miles of trees infested with the bugs that burrow beneath a the bark and sap the life from trees.

The result has been huge swaths and, in some cases, entire mountainsides of brown trees.

The Forest Service, state agencies and private landowners have sprayed trees and felled others to prevent a buildup of dry fuel for wildfires.

The bark beetle cooperative, which includes federal, state and local agencies, business and civic leaders and residents of western and central Colorado, is helping shape how the Forest Service responds to the epidemic.

“This gives us community buy-in” when treatment plans are drafted, said Forest Service spokeswoman MaryAnn Chambers.

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Ten counties sent representatives to Thursday’s meeting. People from each county huddled around tables in a conference room at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp south of Granby, pointing out areas they believe should be the focus of the beetle efforts.

Logging infected trees and other preventive measures at the camp were credited with minimizing the damage from a wildfire earlier this summer.

Granby Mayor Ted Wang took notes on a big sheet of paper taped to a column. Under the heading “Values” was list of things the participants wanted to protect, including watersheds, views, recreation opportunities and homes.

“OK, now the fun part,” Wang said, “what is most important?”

The Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management will compile the information and likely present it at the cooperative’s steering committee meeting in December.

“I just think we need to deal with this situation in the next five years with the hand we got dealt,” said Richard Stem, deputy regional director of the Forest Service.

Funding is an issue. Colorado’s congressional delegation won approval this year for an additional $2 million to deal with bark beetles, which are also a problem in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest.

The Forest Service estimates that about 44 percent of Colorado’s 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine forest is infested ” more than six times the area infested in 2002.

Lodgepole pines are easier prey than ponderosa pine because its bark is thinner. More than 20,000 acres have been treated the last two years. The goal is to treat another 80,000 acres over the next five years.

“I tell people I’m not fighting beetles, I’m fighting the impacts,” said Clint Kyhl, a district ranger in the Medicine Bow National Forest and head of the regional team assigned to the task.

While bark beetle infestations are considered part of natural cycles, the current outbreak is aggravated by the growing number of homes in or near forests. That makes the prospect of wildfire roaring through stands of dead trees more urgent.

Drought and warmer-than-normal temperatures are also thought to be worsening the epidemic. Colorado hasn’t had prolonged freezing temperatures that would help kill the bugs, and the drought has weakened the trees.

Chuck Vale with the Routt County Office of Emergency Management said the Bark Beetle Cooperative was instrumental in building support among the state’s congressional members to pursue more funding.

Vale, a member of the group and a rancher, said deciding the priorities in individual communities and coordinating preventive and cleanup efforts with local governments and private landowners could be a tougher job.

“There’s no easy solution for this issue,” Vale said.

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