Regional Forest Service leader says more fire needed to treat beetle-killed forests
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite some anecdotal reports that the bark beetle epidemic may have peaked in localized areas, top U.S. Forest Service officials said the problem continues to grow, with mountain pine beetles, spruce beetles and ips beetles all taking a toll on forests across the West.
Speaking the the Colorado Governor’s Bark Beetle Summit at the Keystone Lodge Monday, acting Regional Forester Tony Dixon said the agency has made good use of an extra $40 million that was allocated during 2010 to tackle some of the most serious hazards associated with the beetle outbreak, including continued clearing of standing and dead trees near neighborhoods, cutting trees from around trails, roads and campgrounds and trying to protect community watersheds and other important infrastructure like power lines.
For now, the Forest Service doesn’t have a final budget for 2011, so the agency doesn’t know how much — if any — extra money will be available. But internally, rangers have already shifted another $10 million around to continue their methodical approach to mitigating danger from fire and falling trees.
The $40 million went toward treating about 20,000 acres in the wildland-urban interface, as well as clearing potentially dangerous trees from along 415 miles of trails and 500 miles of forest roads, Dixon said.
The bark beetle summit was headlined by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and other high-level elected officials, who focused on the need for collaboration at all levels.
But the mechanical logging and thinning is not enough to fully address the scope of the problem, Dixon said,
“We’re in need of a significant increase in getting fire back on the land … we need more fire in the next five to 10 years,” Dixon said.
Dixon and others once again addressed the fundamental economic issue associated with treating vast areas of beetle-killed forests, describing how existing market conditions make it a challenge to find value for the timber — especially now, several years into the insect epidemic, as many of the trees are quickly losing their value as timber that could be milled into lumber.
Still, Dixon said the traditional timber market will continue to be part of the solution.
“I think it’s true, we need an integrated market … we can’t lose our traditional market. We have to maintain what we have and be part of the dialogue to encourage new emerging markets … propellants, bioenergy, and biomass,” he said.
The Forest Service is working on statewide stewardship agreement with Colorado that could allow the state to serve as a “general contractor,” to help get around haul costs and address the challenges smaller operators face when it comes to getting bonded for the forest work.
Filed under: Environment, Forest health, Summit County Colorado, US Forest Service, White River National Forest Tagged: | bark beetles, Bill Ritter, Forest health, Governor's bark beetle summit, mountain pine beetles, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, Tom Tidwell, Tony Dixon, U.S. Forest Service, White River National Forest