Funding for bark beetle mitigation could continue to flow, now that an amendment Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet offered to the 2012 Farm Bill on the matter passed the U.S. Senate Wednesday.
The amendments, which encourage public-private sector partnerships, build on a multi-year effort to advance legislation and provide additional resources that would strengthen the ability to address the ongoing beetle epidemic in Western forests.
The amendments had bipartisan support and would double the amount of money included in the 2012 Farm Bill to $200 million.
At the same time Udall and his comrades are gaining traction in Washington on the bark beetle issue, the beetle's effects are spreading well beyond Colorado. That means that, though the funding may be increasing, it must fill many more pots of need across the West - though Colorado has spearheaded the effort to get national recognition on the issue.
"Bark beetles have devastated stands of trees throughout Colorado and the western United States and are even now providing fuel for wildfire," Udall said. "This amendment will help our forest managers remove beetle-killed trees from our forests and reduce the wildfire risk to human life and homes. My amendment also will bolster the ability of sawmills and biomass-energy facilities to use beetle-killed timber to create jobs."
For forest health officials in Summit County, the news is good news.
"Although I don't know the specifics of how the money may be allocated and how much will be available for local projects, every dime invested in forest health, fire mitigation and watershed protection is money well invested in our future economy and environment; and will pay large dividends," said Howard Hallman of the Forest Health Task Force and Greenlands Reserve.
For Dillon District Ranger Jan Cutts, it means support for those dealing with the beetle issues and related forest health in the West. The local Forest Service has crews on the ground throughout the summer to clear fallen trees as well as to do mitigation projects on high-use areas with trees affected by the beetles. There are still thousands of acres locally to millions of acres across the West affected by the mountain pine beetle and the spruce beetle.
"This amendment will help make Colorado's forests safer and healthier," Bennet said. "It represents a bipartisan effort to respond to the devastation that bark beetles have left behind in Colorado and throughout the West by safely removing dead and dying trees while creating jobs and spurring economic growth and protecting Coloradans."
According to Udall's office, fighting bark beetles has broad bipartisan support throughout Colorado and across the West. Wildfires and declining forest health can threaten not only Colorado's high-country communities, but also the sources of Colorado's drinking water and irrigation water.
Bark beetles have affected more than 41.7 million acres of trees throughout the western United States, including 21.7 million acres of trees in the intermountain west alone. More than 17 million of these acres in the intermountain west are on U.S. Forest Service land.