Taking the beetle fight to Washington
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
WASHINGTON ” Colorado’s congressional delegation is showing a unified front to get economic stimulus money to fight bark beetle infestations in the state’s dead or dying forests.
All nine members, seven Democrats and two Republicans, are pressing the heads of four federal agencies to spend up to $57.4 million to lessen chances of wildfires while creating jobs in the process.
In addition, “these projects will … produce renewable energy from the removal of insect-killed trees, and protect watersheds that provide water to 10 states,” the lawmakers wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
So far, the state is expected to get $5 million for one “fuels mitigation” project spanning Jackson, Routt and Grand counties, although hundreds of millions more are available for projects nationwide.
State and local officialsfear a wildfire catastrophe if more isn’t done to clear diseased and dying trees in forests near populated mountain communities.
“This is what keeps us all up at night,” Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman said Wednesday during a bipartisan summit convened by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs.
Officials estimate about 2 million acres of lodgepole pine forests are dead or dying because of bark beetle infestations, threatening almost two dozen incorporated communities and 21,455 acres of recreational sites.
Colorado’s congressional delegation is asking the federal departments to study potential hazards and “take decisive actions” on priority projects this year.
“We cannot overstate the threat to communities and our fellow Coloradans’ way of life posed by these dead and dying federal forests,” their letter states.
Wednesday’s summit was attended by Sens. Udall and Michael Bennet, D-Denver; Reps. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, John Salazar, D-Manassa, Jared Polis, D-Boulder; and staff members from other delegation offices.
Although public lands issues sometime cause a partisan split among the state’s lawmakers, “this is one of those issues (when) it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about being a Coloradan,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver. She said she would press the case as a new member of the House Resources Committee.
Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said officials have identified $214 million in forest projects, such as clearing dead or damaged trees around evacuation routes, power lines and communications facilities.
There is about $500 million in the economic stimulus package to pay for “fuels reduction” to ease fire dangers, although Colorado will be competing against other states for money.
The Coloradans want new cabinet members to visit the state to see the extent of the problem, characterized by red or bare trees in once-green forests. Polis said when he moved to Washington this year, he brought a show-and-tell gift he received: a vial of pine beetles.
“They’re dead. They’re dead,” Polis assured summit participants. “Although, maybe it has to spread here to get their attention.”
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