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John Bennett: Guest Opinion

John Bennett
Aspen, CO Colorado
Published: Jordan Curet/Aspen Times Weekly
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Wow!

The community response to last week’s mountain pine beetle forum at the Jerome Ballroom has been tremendous.

By showing up in such numbers, you made it clear that our community cares about saving pine trees in and around Aspen, from the grand old trees in Paepcke Park to select parts of Smuggler Mountain, Hunter Creek, Independence Pass and other areas in our valley’s wildland/urban interface.

This is an urgent problem. While the mountain pine beetle plays a natural role in forest ecology, the scale of this epidemic is unprecedented in recorded history. It’s yet another “calling card” of climate change.

The beetle has infested more than 50,000 square miles of pine forests in British Columbia. In Colorado, 2 million acres of forests have been consumed, and that number is expected to rise again this summer, when the next generation of beetles flies out over the forests in search of new trees to infect.

In damaging our forests, the pine beetle epidemic creates very real threats: Dead trees can fuel more intense wildfires; hillside erosion (especially after a fire) can degrade our streams; falling dead trees can close trails and campgrounds; and dying pine forests reduce the stunning natural beauty of our valley, which is so important both to our quality of life and our economy.

While our valley’s diverse mix of pine, fir, spruce and aspen trees means we won’t suffer the total “wipe out” of some lodgepole-only forest areas of central Colorado, we still have substantial pine forests that are severely threatened around our communities and recreation areas.

So what can you do?

– Stay informed. As community and environmental leaders work with forestry experts to devise a plan, more information will be available on our website (www.fortheforest.org), from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County, and in our local media.

– Stay educated. We are developing educational materials and community programs in partnership with ACES that will help you identify and protect lodgepole pines in our forests and in your yards. Aspen and Pitkin County offer excellent educational resources as well.

– Support our elected officials as they consider measures to reduce wildfire danger, control pine beetle populations, and increase forest diversity in our communities and the wildland/urban interface.

– Keep talking about this issue. If we are to save the pines in and around town and in other valued areas, this will require a community-wide effort involving locals, nonprofits and governments working together. The more we learn and talk with each other, the better our chances of a coordinated and successful response.

– Join us, at http://www.fortheforest.org. We’ll keep you up to date on the latest news.

Currently, For The Forest is working with the Roaring Fork Forest Coalition, a group that includes representatives from Aspen, Pitkin County, the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the U.S. Forest Service, Wilderness Workshop and the 10th Mountain Hut Association, all critical organizations in seeking an enlightened response to the pine beetle epidemic.

We are examining ways to save some of the threatened pines on top of Smuggler Mountain, an effort that hopefully will involve cooperation and assistance from all the Coalition members. For The Forest is meeting with the Forest Service and the Independence Pass Foundation to explore ways to protect public areas such as the Braille trail and the Weller Lake and Lincoln Creek campgrounds.

We’re also working with a variety of private landowners to help them protect the lodgepole pines on their land.

In May and June, the community will need volunteers to help with work on the ground, and we hope to engage local groups and their members who have expressed enthusiastic support.

The pine beetle fly season begins in July. Given the extraordinary speed of the epidemic, the job of protecting valuable areas of our wildland/urban interface around homes and recreation areas will be far easier this summer than next. The broad community support expressed last week gives us great hope that we can protect many of our community forest areas and lessen the threat of this epidemic.

If we succeed, the outcome will be more sustainable forest areas around our community with reduced wildfire threat, greater forest diversity, improved wildlife habitat, watershed protection and scenic beauty preserved for our children.


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