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Colorado: Wildfire task force report suggests crackdown on red zone development

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The cost of property damage caused by wildfires has spiked in recent years.

More disastrous fires ahead with sustained effort to address threat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Increased development in fire-prone forest lands in Colorado “ensures that the pattern of damaging wildfire will continue,” according to a state task force report released last week.

The report was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative after two consecutive years of deadly and destructive fires along the Front Range.

The report calls for rating the wildfire risks on individual properties, and facilitating mitigation and prevention measures at the local level. Property owners in the red zone should be primarily responsible for adressing wildfire dangers, to the point of paying special fees to help fund mitigation efforts. Continue reading

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New insect pest hits Colorado’s beleaguered forests

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Pine needle scale directly affects the needles of conifers. Photo courtesy Oregon State University.

Outbreak on pine needle scale  reported in Grand County, ground zero for the pine beetle infestation

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado forest health experts say there’s a new pest on the loose in one of the areas hardest hit by mountain pine beetles.

Pine needle scale is affecting patches of trees in Grand County, where residents have reported ailing lodgepole pines in recent months.

The tiny bug latches on to pine needles and sucks them dry. They can affect any age tree and generally don’t cause trees to die, although a heavy infestation can lead to mortality, according to Ryan McNertney, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service Granby District. Continue reading

Op-ed: Teamwork needed to protect forests, watersheds

Active forest management needed to protect water supplies

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A beetle-kill forest clear cut near Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

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Colorado State Forester Mike Lester.

By Mike Lester

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to reduce the risk and impacts of catastrophic Western wildfires was signed last week in Fort Collins. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was good news for anyone who cares about the health of our forests, pays a water bill or worries about wildfires.

The Colorado State Forest Service is proud to be part of a similar local partnership that is being viewed as the first of six WWEP pilot programs in the West to improve forest and watershed health, and help mitigate wildfire risk. The Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado and Big Thompson rivers in Northern Colorado. Partners include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

Colorado: Grants available for wildfire mitigation

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Flames tower over a stand of piñon trees during the Royal Gorge fire near Cañon City.

New state program aims to reduce the risk of fire in wildland-urban interface

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — State officials say they’re ready to start taking applications for a new $9.8 million grant program aimed at reducing wildfire risks to neighborhoods built in and near flammable forests, where wildfire is a natural part of the ecosystem.

The new program was created by Senate Bill 13-269 and passed this year by the Colorado General Assembly. It focuses on projects that reduce the risk for damage to property, infrastructure, and water supplies, and that limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas. Funds will be directed to non-federal lands within Colorado.

Eligible applicants include community groups, local governments, utilities, state agencies and non-profit groups. Applicants must contribute 100 percent matching funds, which can include in-kind resources, for a 50-50 grant-to-match ratio. Applicants must also identify plans to make use of the woody material resulting from the projects. Those plans can include using the materials for biomass energy and/or traditional forest products. Continue reading

Colorado foresters say no need to spray for pine beetles

Local company continue to offer spraying services, saying some property owners would rather be safe than sorry

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Pine beetle populations have dropped to the lowest level in 30 years in parts of the Colorado high country. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — While some local property owners report that they’re getting advertisements from local tree spraying companies about protecting lodgepole pines from mountain pine beetles, state officials say there’s no need to apply pesticides this year.

“Mountain pine beetle numbers are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years,” said Ron Cousineau, district state forester for the area covering Summit and Grand counties. “The mountain pine beetle population has crashed … spraying has to be based on an actual threat,” he said. “The current population of pine beetles does not warrant spraying.”

Essentially, the bugs have killed most of the available trees. With very few brood trees remaining, beetle populations aren’t likely to reach epidemic levels again anytime soon. The latest forest surveys showed pine beetle activity on only about 200 acres in Summit County last year, with only a few pockets of trees within those areas affected by the beetles. Continue reading

Colorado gets new state forester

Mike Lester says Colorado forests face ‘extraordinary changes’

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Colorado’s aspen forests may see more die-offs as a result of last summer’s drought.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado’s new state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service may be moving here from Pennsylvania, but his forestry roots are pure Colorado.

Mike Lester is a CSU alumnus and spent time with the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. He currently serves as assistant state forester for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, a position in which he is responsible for more than 300 staff, manages 2 million acres of state forest land, oversees the Pennsylvania State nursery manager, and manages a silviculture program that yields $25 million in annual revenues.

As Colorado  state forester, Lester is responsible for the protection of Colorado’s forest resources; ensuring forestry education, outreach and technical assistance to private landowners; and carrying out the duties of the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Continue reading

Colorado to revamp wildfire response

The Lower North Fork Fire burning March 26 in Jefferson County. PHOTO COURTESY JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF.

Gov. Hickenlooper proposes reshuffling agencies to unify command structure

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Scrambling to beef up the state’s response capability at the start of what could be a long, hot fire season, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he’ll ask the State Legislature to shake up the agencies charged with responding to public safety emergencies.

Based on the recommendations of a review panel, Hickenlooper said he’ll propose legislation that would put the Division of Emergency Management and wildfire resources at the Colorado State Forest Service under the authority of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service experts named to fire review team

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Report on prescribed fire planning and execution expected in two weeks

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with William Bass, supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, a team set to review the prescribed Colorado State Forest Service fire that may have sparked the deadly Lower North Fork wildfire will include some of the country’s top wildfire experts.

The team includes Francisco (Frankie) Romero, an applied fire ecologist who overseas the Forest Service’s prescribed fire program. Romero will serve as the fire behavior analyst. In his Forest Service position Romero is responsible for policy updates, agency-wide workforce planning and training; monitoring program accomplishments and performance including escaped prescribed fires agency-wide.   Romero’s review experience includes the Salt Fire Shelter Deployment Review, and the Breaks One Escape Prescribed Fire. Continue reading

Colorado: Hickenlooper suspends prescribed fires

Colorado firefighters battle a small blaze near Keystone, Colorado. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Order only applies to state-controlled lands; prescribed burns remain an important resource management took in fire-adapted western forest ecosystems

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — While acknowledging the importance of prescribed fire as a resource management tool, the Colorado State Forest Service joined Gov. John Hickenlooper in calling for an independent review of the circumstances that resulted in the deadly Lower North Fork Fire.

The announcement came after deputy state forester Joe Duda confirmed that a prescribed burn was the likely source of ignition for the Lower North Fork Fire, which has affected a 4,500 acre area in Jefferson County, burning 23 homes and killing two residents.

“We will conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of conditions across the state, as well as the protocols that have been utilized during the prescribed burns,” Hickenlooper said. “We encourage any other land manager who uses prescribed fires as a tool to mitigate fire danger to review their procedures and protocols and carefully evaluate weather and landscape conditions.” Continue reading

Colorado: Loans to help build forest product industry

Got an idea for using beetle-killed wood? Loans are available for forest product businesses in NW Colorado.

Summit County meeting to focus on regional financing program

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Even as the pine beetle outbreak slows down in Colorado, state and regional officials are redoubling their efforts to find some use for the vast tracts of dead trees left behind and to jump-start businesses that could help build a sustainable forest product industry in the years to come.

A new fund set up by the Colorado State Forest Service and administered through the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is offering loans to help businesses that harvest, remove, utilize or market timber from beetle-killed stands and other forested areas in northwest Colorado. Continue reading

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