Beetle bill passes Senate committee unanimously | SummitDaily.com

Beetle bill passes Senate committee unanimously

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news

DENVER – A bill that would help local communities pay for reforestation projects to repair damage left behind by the mountain pine beetle passed its first hurdle in the state Senate on Tuesday. House Bill 1130, sponsored by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Coal Creek Canyon, passed the Senate Committee on Local Government with a unanimous vote.The bill passed the state House on a 64-1 vote earlier this month. It now moves to the Senate floor.Senate sponsor Fitz-Gerald called the need for the bill “particularly frightening” based on the beetles’ rapid movement through Grand, Eagle, Jackson, Summit and Routt counties since 2001.”We have very limited resources to attack this problem, but we’re trying to get from here to there in warp speed before we reach the summer,” Fitz-Gerald said. The beetles start flying in July.The bill proposes a pilot forest restoration program whereby local communities with an approved community wildfire protection plan could qualify for grants to help pay for experimental projects, such as those that would reduce the threat of large wildfires, preserve old and large trees or replant trees in deforested areas. Summit County adopted its wildfire protection plan last year.The state’s share of a project cost would be capped at 60 percent or $1 million.A technical advisory panel would be formed evaluate grant applications.Three people spoke in favor of the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing, including Shanna Koenig, of Silverthorne-based Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Koenig read a statement on behalf of NWCOG executive director Gary Severson, who couldn’t attend the hearing because of bad weather. Koenig pointed out the precarious situation for the state’s watersheds as a result of the mountain pine beetle.Forests are filling with dying or dead lodgepole pines attacked by the beetle, and dry fuels are accumulating on the forest floor creating a potentially catastrophic wildfire scenario, Koenig said.In Dillon or Granby, which both rely on a single source for their water that runs through a forest, “a Hayman-type fire would simply put them out of business,” she said, citing the $7.8 million Denver Water has spent cleaning up Cheeseman Reservoir since the Hayman Fire in 2002, the largest wildfire in state history.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.