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Forest Service grants help design biofuel energy projects

Trees cleared during wildfire fuel reduction projects can be turned into fuel pellets, Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Trees cleared during wildfire fuel reduction projects can be turned into fuel pellets, Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Grant program has helped pay for forest wildfire fuel reduction projects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For all its dead lodgepole pines, Colorado was shut out of the latest round of grants awarded by the U.S. Forest Service for wood-to-energy projects, touted as a way to expand regional economies and create new jobs.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the $2.5 million funding push last week. “These grants help grow new jobs, support clean energy production and improve our local environments, especially in reducing fire threats,” said Tidwell. “Communities from Massachusetts to Alaska will benefit from the program this year.” Continue reading

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Federal wildfire budgets need a makeover

Congress makes bipartisan push to reform funding for prevention

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators says the Forest Service must find a better to allocate funds for firefighting. Cutting money for wildfire prevention leads to spiraling costs for firefighting and ultimately increases the size of fires, the senators wrote in a June 28 letter to cabinet members.

The letter requests the administration to create an action plan to fully fund prevention efforts such as hazardous fuels reduction, in addition to fire suppression efforts. Currently, the administration takes funds from other non-fire programs to pay for fire suppression costs – a practice called fire borrowing. Continue reading

Congress sets hearing on public lands ‘pay-to-play’ fees

Summit County hiking Colorado

Congress will take input on the controversial federal pay-to-play program this week.

Critics say loopholes enable federal agencies to charge illegal fees

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The federal pay-to-play program will get a once-over in Congress this week, as a House subcommittee hears from agency officials and citizens before the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act expires next year.

At issue are how the fee program for access to public lands is being implemented by federal agencies. The hearing is set to start at 10 a.m. EDT and should be available as webcast via the House Committee on Natural Resources website.

The access fees started in the late 1990s as the so-called fee demo program, enabling federal land agencies to charge fees as long the money was used to improve the area where it was collected. Continue reading

Environment: Can wildfires affect climate?

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A new U.S. Forest Service research paper outlines how wildfires can affect climate. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Smoke particles can cool ground temperatures and suppress cloud formation

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with resulting in huge on-the-ground disturbance, wildfires also have an impact in the atmosphere. With wildfires expected to increase in a warming world, U.S. Forest Service researchers recently set out to document what some of those effects might be with a synthesis of recent research, focusing on the effect of emissions from wildfires on long-term atmospheric conditions.

“While research has historically focused on fire-weather interactions, there is increasing attention paid to fire-climate interactions,” said Yongqiang Liu, lead author and team leader with the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science. “Weather, the day-to-day state of the atmosphere in a region, influences individual fires within a fire season. In contrast, when we talk about fire climate, we’re looking at the statistics of weather over a certain period. Fire climate sets atmospheric conditions for fire activity in longer time frames and larger geographic scales,” Liu said.

Key findings included:

  • The radiative forcing of smoke particles can generate significant regional climate effects, leading to lower temperatures at the ground surface.
  • Smoke particles mostly suppress cloud formation and precipitation. Fire events could lead to more droughts.
  • Black carbon, essentially the fine particles of carbon that color smoke, plays different roles in affecting climate. In the middle and lower atmosphere, its presence could lead to a more stable atmosphere. Black carbon plays a special role in the snow-climate feedback loop, accelerating snow melting. Continue reading

Study finds invasive plants to be widespread in forests

New mapping to help resource managers plan prevention and response

Non-native grasses have altered the wildfire regime across parts of the High Plains. Bob Berwyn photo.

Non-native grasses have altered the wildfire regime across parts of the High Plains.

By Summit VoiceFRISCO — Invasive species may be much more common than we think, according to a new U.S. Forest Service study that documented non-native species in two-thirds of forest plots inventoried in the Northeast and Midwest. The study across two dozen states from North Dakota to Maine can help land managers pinpoint areas on the landscape where invasive plants might take root.

“We found two-thirds of more than 1,300 plots from our annual forest inventory had at least one introduced species, but this also means that one-third of the plots had no introduced species,” said Beth Schulz, a research ecologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station who led the study. “By describing forest stands with few or no introduced species, we help managers focus on areas where early detection and rapid response can be most effective to slow the spread of introduced and potentially invasive plant species.”

Nonnative, or introduced, plants are those species growing in areas where they are not normally found. Whether they were intentionally released or escaped cultivation, nonnative plants ultimately can become invasive, displacing native species, degrading habitat, and altering critical ecosystem functions. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service revamps fees for bikepath events

Policy change enables agency to charge per-person fees

The 2012 Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle, a cycling tour in Lake, Summit, and Eagle Counties, and based in Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. Photo Steve Peterson

Cyclists cruise the Summit County recpath on Forest Service land during the 2012 Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle, a cycling tour in Lake, Summit, and Eagle Counties based at Copper Mountain, Colorado. Photo courtesy Steve Peterson/Copper Triangle.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The White River National Forest has revamped its fee structure for special events using local bike paths that cross national forest lands. Under the changes, organizers of cycling events like the Copper Triangle will pay a graduated per-person fee ranging from $1 per person, up to $2 per person for larger events.

The new fees, authorized under a local special use amendment, will affect special events using three specific bike paths: Vail Pass, Glenwood Canyon and the recpath system around Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, according to WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. Continue reading

Colorado: Sen. Udall hosts session on Browns Canyon plan

Cherished stretch of river lands up for better protection

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If you have questions about the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness proposal, head over the Nathrop Saturday, April 13, when Sen. Mark Udall will host a listening session to get community feedback that will help fine-tune the plan.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Residents of central Colorado will get a chance to offer some input on a proposed new wilderness area along the Arkansas River this weekend (Saturday, April 13), when Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) holds a listening session in Nathrop. The session is set for 10 a.m. at Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting Company, 23910 U.S. Highway 285 in Nathrop.

Udall’s draft proposal for the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Area is based on more than a year’s worth of community input. It would cover 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista on the Arkansas River, including 10,500 acres of new wilderness. Continue reading

Audit shows gaps in USFS oil and gas leasing programs

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Draft oil and gas leasing map on the White River National Forest.

Report questions agency’s readiness for potential spills

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service needs to tighten up its oil and gas leasing program, including procedures for reporting spills and monitoring cleanups, according to a new report from the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.

Along with illustrating weaknesses in the Forest Service’s oversight of oil and gas drilling on national forest lands, the report also noted that the agency needs to work more closely with the Bureau of Land Management to streamline the permitting process on national forest lands. 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: Sen. Udall pushes for more firefighting funds

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Senate passes budget amendment that prioritizes spending for wildfire resources

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A budget amendment that would prioritize funds for fighting wildfires passed the Senate this weekend by voice vote without objection, according to a statement from Sen. Mark Udall’s office.

Udall (D-CO) said the amendment will increase the funding availability for fighting wildfires and modernizing the air tanker fleet by $100 million — critical funds that will help prevent fires from growing and threatening lives and homes in the West. Continue reading

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