Rural Resort Region shifts focus to pine beetles | SummitDaily.com

Rural Resort Region shifts focus to pine beetles

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – The mountain pine beetle infestation raging across the Colorado High Country will be the top priority next year for the five-county Rural Resort Region, a loose coalition of governments formed to address resort community issues.The Rural Resort Region was formed in 1996 by Eagle, Garfield, Lake, Pitkin and Summit counties. In 2003, mountain workforce housing was the top issue; in 2004 it was Interstate 70. The organization will devote 75 percent (about $30,000) of its membership-fee based budget to pine beetle issues in the coming year, said Gary Severson, director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG).The biggest goal right now is to organize a high-level symposium for early next year with key decision makers from local governments and the Forest Service coming together to figure out what to do with tens of thousands of dead trees.Getting some sort of economic value from that timber is one consideration, along with just getting rid of the dead trees, Severson said. One of the biggest challenges, in terms of getting some small-scale commercial lumber operations going is the one-year Forest Service permit restrictions on timber sales.”A small mom-n-pop sawmill operator can’t take that to the bank and get a loan for starting up a timber operation,” Severson said. The Forest Service can award longer contracts under forest health stewardship programs, and Severson said NWCCOG and the Rural Resort Region are talking with the Forest Service about the possibility of county jurisdictions becoming partners in those stewardship contracts.The question of I-70 upgrades will remain on the radar screen for the organization, with ongoing talks with the Colorado Department of Transportation slated in the coming months. Funding is a key issue. The group hopes to raise between $75,000 and $100,000 to work on I-70 corridor issues in the coming year. Most of that amount will likely be solicited from member governments and possibly from the private sector, Severson said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228 or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.