Obama campaign leaders tour bark beetle mitigation site

Caddie Nath
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Caddie Nath

DILLON – Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs called on President Obama to support funding for forest health and restoration programs as local Democratic leaders showed the president’s campaign staffers around the site of a bark beetle mitigation project.

“Very specifically I have messages for you all for the president,” Gibbs told Obama’s state policy director Jake Swanton and press secretary Kim Parker Friday afternoon at the Straight Creek thinning project near Dillon. “Long-term consistent funding for the U.S. Forest Service.”

Gibbs, along with state Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) who co-hosted the tour, also asked that current programs promoting and supporting private and individual efforts to remove beetle-killed trees be continued.

The Straight Creek forest restoration project is a multi-year clear-cut effort just below Interstate 70 to protect the creek, the primary source of drinking water for Dillon, as well as the highway and power and gas lines in the area.

With 146,000 acres of beetle-impacted forest in Summit County alone since 2006 and approximately 1.1 million dead pines, Gibbs said funding for such projects is crucial to protecting life, critical infrastructure and structures in the High Country, both from fire and from falling trees.

Gibbs and Hamner, both Democrats, expressed concern with Republican presidential hopeful Gov. Mitt Romney’s support of the Paul Ryan budget plan, which they said cut Forest Service funding by 19 percent.

Obama’s officials would not comment publicly during the tour, but issued a statement afterward.

“President Obama is working hard to create an economy built to last,” Parker stated. “He understands the importance of our public lands and national parks, not only for their scenic vistas and natural beauty, but for local economies and the outdoor recreation industry. … President Obama is investing in Colorado’s recreation economy and working to improve forest health.”

Though Hamner and Gibbs both condemned Republican proposed cuts to the Forest Service budget, Gibbs said Friday’s tour wasn’t a party move.

“If the Romney campaign called me tomorrow I’d be happy to show them the same tour,” Gibbs said. “Forest health is a non-partisan issue. But what’s very important is funding: we need to make sure that we manage our federally owned lands in a responsible way that’s adequately funded.”

Gibbs ended the tour with an invitation for Obama himself to come visit the High Country to discuss issues around the I-70 mountain corridor and forest health. Wearing his trademark belt buckle, featuring the image of a beetle carved into wood from a beetle-killed pine tree for the tour, Gibbs promised to give one to the president if he visited.

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