mountain beetle battle
Forest epidemic seen as threatening
mountain tourism industry
Trees in the late stages of
infection with mountain pine beetles show tattered limbs and
Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk
October 7, 2005
GRAND COUNTY — If words could kill bugs, then
Colorado’s battle against tree-munching insects might not seem as
daunting as described by speaker after speaker at a mountain pine
beetle summit held Wednesday in Winter Park.
The meeting, organized by Eagle County’s Democratic Congressman Mark
Udall, was aimed at coming up with ideas to deal with the bugs turning
trees rusty brown as they kill mountain forests.
According to Udall, a new bill he intends to introduce soon in
Washington, D.C. might help.
“The federal government has a role to play. We don’t have all the
answers, but we need to look at what’s working and what changes could
be made,” Udall said, explaining that he’s drafting what’s tentatively
called the bark beetle relief act.
Udall said the measure could authorize the Forest Service to hire
additional employees and increase funding to federal agencies to
respond to beetle threats.
“This has been a terrible problem for Colorado,” said Colorado Senate
President Joan Fitz-Gerald, who represents Summit County.
“It’s a visual problem and a safety problem. Maybe there’s some
economic development that can come out of this. Maybe we can take this
problem and make it work to our best advantage.”
Timber industry comeback?
State timber industry officials were also on hand Wednesday as
officials acknowledged that addressing the beetle problem will require
extensive collaboration with private businesses to cut and process the
dead and dying trees, which are more flammable than lives trees.
In Summit County last month, a small wildfire became more severe
because it burned in trees killed by beetles. Dead trees also played a
role in a 20,000-acre-plus fire in the Flat Tops Wilderness, which
sprawls into northwest Eagle County, in 2002.
“Catastrophic fires in our watersheds could unravel the fabric of life
here in Colorado,” said Mark Morgan of the Colorado Timber Industry
Association. “You have to have an economic engine to keep this kind of
work affordable, and you have to have sustainable, long-term forest
management policies so you’re not managing from crisis to crisis.”
The problem is that the timber industry in Colorado has dwindled in
the past few decades. There simply aren’t enough commercial logging
operations to process the tremendous amount of timber.
“The public spent 25 years trying to put me out of business and the
last five years trying to work me to death,” Morgan said, describing
the see-saw shifts in public attitudes about logging.
Jump-starting the timber industry would require a significant
commitment of public resources up front, Morgan said, explaining that
no businessman is going to be willing to make a multi-million dollar
investment in a logging or sawmill operation unless there’s a decent
chance to get a return on it.
Bob Berwyn can be contacted at