Task force takes aim at pine beetle infestation | SummitDaily.com

Task force takes aim at pine beetle infestation

Summit Daily/Kristin SkvorcA Cut Above Forestry employee Sean Strouse loads a pile of trees killed by beetles into a dumpster Friday at Summit Middle School. The trees will be taken to the landfill and some will be salvaged for lumber. Around 500 trees were killed in this area and a total of 740 trees have been infested in Frisco.

SUMMIT COUNTY – As rust-colored, beetle-kills spread rampantly across local forests, a task force organized by Our Future Summit is trying to generate community awareness and support for a plan of action aimed at trying to mitigate some of the environmental and economic impacts of the infestation.The task force has outlined its goals and a slew of other useful information on a new website (www.summitpinebeetle.org) and has also formulated draft action plan for Summit County.First and foremost, the group wants to ensure maintenance and protection of public health, safety and infrastructure by limiting impacts to forest recreation facilities, hydrology and watersheds, and to carry out fuel management activities in areas where the beetle epidemic has seriously increased the threat of wildfire.”We can’t stop the biological cycle. We can’t stop the beetle epidemic,” said Don Parsons at a task force meeting in Frisco Thursday. “But we don’t have to be completely passive either,” he said.

The task force also wants to try and recover some economic value from the dead timber before it burns or decays. At least some of the timber could remain economically viable for anywhere between five and 18 years. The draft action plan also calls for preventing or reducing damage to forests in areas that are susceptible – but not yet experiencing – epidemic infestations. Continued efforts to detect and monitor infestation levels and the effectiveness of mitigation actions is also critical.Getting a comprehensive picture of the situation requires input from as many sources as possible, said task force member Sandy Briggs, explaining that he has requested local ski resorts to provide a summary of their monitoring and mitigation efforts.Constance Jones, executive director of the Summit County Chamber, said she is working with Vail Resorts and Intrawest on setting up an economic summit, and may try to get the pine beetle issue on the agenda, given the potential economic impacts to the tourism and the real estate industries.Restoration is another key area of focus for the group. Once the epidemic has run its course, nature will take a lead role in re-establishing a more diverse and healthy forest, but the community should examine the opportunities and costs, including possible funding sources and new research, for silviculture techniques to address the mid-term timber supply gap.

It’s not clear yet how far the beetle infestation will spread in Summit County, but parts of Eagle County, around West Vail, for example, could see lodgepole mortality of 80 to 90 percent. By some estimates, the mortality rate in Summit County won’t go as high, given the higher average elevation, but some of the other conventional pine beetle wisdom has also proven misguided over the past few years.It may be hard to see anything positive about vast tracts of forests dying, but the long-term outlook does hold some hope.”In many ways, it’s going to be healthier, more diverse forest,” county special projects planner Steve Hill said at the task force meeting. “It’s not all just gloom and doom,” he said, explaining that the lodgepole die-off will open the forest and allow for more diverse vegetation and habitat.Hill said the county’s highest priority is public safety in the form of wildfire mitigation. To that end, local officials continue to work slowly on a countywide plan. As well, the Forest Service and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments have started working on a project specific to the Upper Blue, while many homeowner groups in the county have taken steps to protect their own neighborhoods.The community wildfire protection plan has been conceptually adopted by the Board of County Commissioners, the U.S. Forest Service and the Lake Dillon Fire Authority, Hill said, adding that the plan is now under consideration by various town governments.

On another front, Hill said an air quality assessment for an envisioned biofuel facility at the County Commons is circulating in draft form, and could be presented to the BOCC Sept. 21.Addressing the pine beetle infestation proactively – especially the restoration component – should be seen as an economic opportunity and as a potential tool for job creation, the task force agreed.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

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