Udall wants elbow room to battle beetles | AspenTimes.com

Udall wants elbow room to battle beetles

An outbreak of bark beetles, such as this red terpentine beetle, has Colorado Rep. Mark Udall calling for streamlined logging rules in order to combat the pest. (Edward S. Ross/AP)

WINTER PARK ” A Democratic congressman with a reputation as an environmentalist said Wednesday the West’s tree-killing bark beetle infestation is so bad that some logging rules should be streamlined to help combat the pest.

“The problem isn’t coming. The problem is on top of us,” Colorado Rep. Mark Udall said.

Udall met with about 150 elected officials, federal land managers, timber industry employees and western Colorado residents at this ski resort, one of the beetle’s hot spots.

He said he will introduce legislation to expand the federal Healthy Forest Act to give states and communities more leeway in attacking the insect infestations raging throughout the West.

The beetles burrow under bark and leave stands of rusty brown pines in swaths across some of the West’s most scenic vistas.

Udall said businesses, homeowners and all levels of government will have to cooperate to control the infestation.

He has suggested letting governors declare an emergency to deal with the beetles and, in some cases, streamlining environmental reviews of logging and projects aimed at attacking the insects.

Udall cited a two-year effort by the Winter Park ski area and the U.S. Forest Service to cut infected trees and to log dense stands to stem the spread of the beetles. It might not always make sense for the ski area to go through full-blown environmental reviews, he said.

Udall acknowledged some of his ideas might make environmentalists uneasy and cautioned that cutting red tape shouldn’t be used as an excuse to gut federal environmental laws.

Steve Smith of the Wilderness Society, agreed.

“Any measure to deal with this beetle kill situation needs to be focused near where there could be danger to somebody’s home or community,” Smith said. “But this should not be about going overboard with changing forest rules or going into the backcountry.”

Audience members told him the federal government needs a long-term management plan so loggers and sawmills can rely on a steady supply of timber.

“For 25 years, they were trying to put me out of business, and the last five they’ve been trying to work me to death,” said Mark Morgan, a Fort Collins timber company owner who contracts with the Forest Service.

Others said most of the state’s sawmills and timber companies have shut down because of dwindling business.

Some homeowners complained that when they cut infected trees or thin stands, they have no place to take the wood. Elected officials at the meeting said they are looking into burning the timber to create electricity.

Udall praised that as a way to fight the beetles while creating jobs, boosting mountain economies and developing alternative sources of energy.

The bark beetle epidemic is blamed in part on mild weather that lets the beetles survive the winter, a long-term Western drought that weakened trees, and forests that grew too dense because of fire suppression and reduced logging.

Forest Service officials said the beetles are attacking trees at higher elevations than in the past, likely because of rising temperatures at higher altitudes.

Morgan said this infestation is worse than outbreaks in the 1970s and 1980s, but he said he was encouraged by public awareness of the problem and long-term efforts to tackle it.

“Am I optimistic about the bugs? No. The horse is out of the barn here,” he said.

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