‘We have to start somewhere’
SUMMIT COUNTY – Local planners and elected officials held a top-level pow-wow with the U.S. Forest Service Monday, seeking assurances that urgent wildfire mitigation work can proceed in a timely way this summer. “It’s so overwhelming. But we have to start somewhere. We aren’t going to start in the backcountry. We’re going to start in the (wildland-urban) interface,” county manager Ron Holliday said during the Board of County Commissioner’s work session in Breckenridge.The spreading pine beetle infestation has already led to increased fire danger in forests around numerous Summit County residential areas. Of prime importance is the ability of local homeowners to cut infested trees on national forest lands adjacent to private properties. County Commissioner Bill Wallace was adamant about the immediate need to fill an already funded position that is intended to be a liaison between private property owners, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
“What are the steps we need to do to get that person a desk and a phone?” he asked. “This is supposed to be the person who can give the green light to homeowners to cut trees on Forest Service land. Our homeowners are ready to do it.””I’m willing to allow cutting of trees that have been infested and are going to die,” said deputy White River National Forest supervisor Don Carroll, explaining that the site-specific OK has to come from district ranger Rick Newton.At a pine beetle forum last week, Newton explained that elements of the Upper Blue stewardship plan provide for what he called “environmental coverage” for pine beetle work between Frisco and Breckenridge. A local wildfire council will prioritize projects, with homeowner funded projects likely moving to the top of the list, Newton said.Northwest Colorado Council of Governments director Gary Severson discussed the larger funding picture for pine beetle work, and, brandishing a toy plastic chainsaw, said he wanted to emphasize that the idea is to make sawdust fly this summer.
“We hope to see action on the ground in all the counties this summer,” Carroll said, referring to the area covered by the Northern Bark Beetle Cooperative in Eagle, Jackson, Grand, Routt and Summit counties. The Forest Service recently freed up about $500,000 with re-allocations from other regions to this area.Holliday said he still has some concerns about the roadless planning process and its potential effects on wildfire fuels treatments. Based on comments he’s heard at various roadless planning sessions, he said it’s not exactly clear what can and can’t be done in those areas, and more importantly, how long it might take to get Forest Service approval.”Our fear, quite honestly, is that interest groups (environmentalists) would oppose reasonable timber management in roadless areas,” Holliday said.”Even the Clinton roadless plan allowed for fuel treatments in roadless areas, although it didn’t make it easy,” Carroll replied. He then challenged the group to start thinking about restoration and what the future forests of Summit County might look like.
Commissioner Tom Long ended the session with one of his trademark comments.”I’m looking forward to smelling the beetle-kill burning instead of all this hot air,” he said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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