SUMMIT COUNTY " Rep. Christine Scanlan (D-Summit Cove) is leading a Summit County delegation to Washington D.C. this week in search of federal dollars to help combat the spread of the pine beetle, a problem she believes is turning into a national security issue.
"We're putting in an emergency request for $200 million over the next three years," Scanlan said Sunday before leaving for her trip. "I don't think the federal government fully understands how much of a national issue this is and we're going to raise their attention."
In 2007, the pine-beetle infestation grew to 1.5 million acres, and the regional Forest Service expects the spread to continue for at least another three years, affecting millions of additional acres in Colorado and southern Wyoming.
In addition to creating fuel for wildfires, dead or dying lodgepole pines that are susceptible to being blown over threaten the power grid that runs along the Continental Divide, a network that provides electricity for most of the western United States.
"This is way beyond anything that Colorado can handle right now," Scanlan said. "We need the resources so that we can be proactive and get ahead of this issue."
In 2003, a fallen tree on a power line in Ohio caused one of the largest power outages in U.S. history, cutting off electricity to 40 million people in eight northeastern states.
"That blackout was caused by one fallen tree," Scanlan said. "Up here we have a lot of those 'one' trees."
Scanlan will be joined on her trip by Colorado state forester Jeff Jahnke and U.S. Forest Service regional forester Rick Cables, who drafted a letter outlining the costs associated with emergency and non-emergency mitigation.
"I am not naive enough to think they are going to write us a check right on the spot," Scanlan said. "But we are going to put it in front of them and give them a chance to do something different. It's time to start taking action now."
Of the $200 million being requested, roughly half would be devoted to wildfire mitigation, and the remaining funds would help cut down trees that pose a threat to public safety and existing structures.
"I think $200 million isn't even close to what we need," Sen. Dan Gibbs (D-Summit County) said. "If you look at the costs of doing just minor thinning projects, it is substantial. We need to get more federal funds earmarked for Colorado."
Gibbs and Scanlan " who chair and co-chair the interim wildfire committee " have been working together outside of the legislative session to bring state and national attention to the pine beetle epidemic, a problem that is now firmly rooted in Summit County.
Last year Gibbs was able to procure $1 million for local forest mitigation, and earlier this year Scanlan helped him introduce the Colorado Forest Restoration Act of 2008, which seeks further grant funding for forest restoration projects that protect critical watersheds.
"This county is the epicenter for the risk we know is out there," county commissioner Thomas Davidson said. "We are smart enough to know the danger is high and we shouldn't have to wait for a disaster to happen before we get help."
Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or