Summit lawmakers head to D.C. for forest health funds
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Summit County’s state lawmakers are in the nation’s capital Tuesday, testifying in support of legislation that would provide funding to address the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs and State Rep. Christine Scanlan, both of whom represent Summit County, are lobbying U.S. senators in hopes of drumming up millions of dollars for western forests through the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act.
“We both think it’s a really positive bill for the state of Colorado and other Western states,” Gibbs said.
The mountain pine beetle outbreak has affected 2.9 million acres of trees in Colorado. In Colorado and southern Wyoming combined, the total area infested totals 3.6 million acres – an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Gibbs cited estimates that every lodgepole pine tree in the state will be dead within a decade.
“The vast swath of dead timber creates fire threats and danger from falling trees. These risks create concerns for communities throughout the West, such as drinking water, critical infrastructure, wildlife, tourism and recreation,” Gibbs said in his testimony.
The bill would identify “Insect and Disease Emergency Areas,” prioritizing them for logging of dead and dying trees. Funding from the proposed legislation would facilitate the removal of heavy fuels near human development, waterways, power transmission lines, roads and other infrastructure.
Colorado received $30 million for such activities from the federal government this year. Scanlan said the funding was a good start, but “we’re going to need another $50 million next year.”
The legislation allows for the trees harvested from emergency areas to be eligible for incentives as renewable energy.
“We have some real momentum on recognizing biomass as renewable fuel,” Scanlan said.
Colorado has 22.6 million acres of forest, 70 percent of which is federal land, making the U.S. government a key player in any forest health or fire-mitigation activities.
“Fire knows no boundaries, so fire management actions must be cross-jurisdictional to be effective,” Gibbs said.
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