Bark beetles: A serious threat requiring serious solutions
The facts about the mountain pine beetle infestation are accumulating fast. As they pour in from state and federal agencies and from businesses and citizens in affected areas, one thing is clear: The bark beetle epidemic poses a national security threat, and that threat is very real.
Every single dead tree poses a risk to people, public land and private property, as well as vital assets such as our watersheds and power lines. Just last week, the National Center for Atmospheric Research released new research suggesting the bark beetle infestation even can even influence global warming.
The potential for catastrophe is perhaps best illustrated by the threat posed to the power grid. There are several important grid transmission facilities serving the western U.S. that cross directly through Colorado’s beetle-impacted forests. According to Tri State Generation and Transmission Association, if just one dead lodgepole collapses on the wrong transformer or power line, it could cause a fire that initiates an uncontrolled cascading power outage in Colorado and neighboring states. Various examples of tree-power line caused wildfire events have already occurred along Colorado’s Front Range. If such an event were to happen, the cost of restoring power to the state and region and replacing destroyed infrastructure would be enormous.
So this leaves us with two options: We can pay a little now to protect our vital assets against catastrophic forest fires, sweeping power failures and the devastating impacts posed to our communities, our fresh water supplies and wildlands. Or, we can wait for a disaster to occur, and pay a lot more in the future.
We think the first option is our only option. We took that message to Congress recently, and last week, we took it to the interim committee tasked with drafting legislation to cope with the growing scourge.
In a funding request to Washington, Rick Cables, Rocky Mountain Regional Forester, estimated that at least $280 million is needed to combat the infestation effectively. That may sound like a big number, but a wildfire that destroys the Front Range’s watersheds, or a power failure that sweeps the entire western United States, would cost us billions.
Recognizing the stark reality that exists, Rep. Scanlan and Jeff Jaehnke, the Colorado State Forester, went to Washington D.C. two weeks ago to raise the profile of the issue and tout Rick Cable’s request. It helped. While there, we received a strong commitment from members of Colorado’s congressional delegation to work toward reducing the impact of the pine beetle epidemic.
Colorado simply does not have the resources needed to address the problem adequately. So we’re going to hold Congress accountable and not let this become just another action item the feds let founder and die.
As chair and vice-chair of the interim wildfire committee, we’re also going to help Congress identify a viable funding source. One idea: securing FEMA funds to address the epidemic. Currently, Colorado is not eligible to receive pre-disaster FEMA funding. So the interim wildfire committee is looking at whether it’s possible to secure FEMA pre-disaster funding to use on impacted federal lands.
Additionally, we’re continuing to author our own creative solutions. In all, we have drafted and will carry seven new bills extending the state’s efforts to protect against wildfires and reduce the threat to our mountain communities.
Legislation intended to help with beetle mitigation efforts by community planning, increasing training for new volunteer firefighters, and encouraging the private sector to harvest the dead timber are all on the docket. So, too, are bills requiring matching state funds for private contributions to the Emergency Fire Fund and providing grants for fire mitigation to those communities put at the highest risk by wildfire.
We know the infestation will kill nearly every lodgepole pine covering 2.2 million acres in the region. The infestation has also moved to lower elevations in the past year and now threatens to engulf Colorado’s ponderosa pine forests as well.
But by continuing to make smart new laws ” targeted laws that foster public-private partnerships, encourage community organizing and affirm our commitment to national security ” we will prevent a catastrophe.
Rep. Scanlan represents House District 56, which includes the mountain communities of Eagle, Lake and Summit counties. Sen. Gibbs represents district 16, which includes parts of Boulder, Summit, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand and Jefferson counties.
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