Steamboat Springs U.S. Sen. Mark Udall hiked up the Spring Creek trail Friday afternoon to get a firsthand look at beetle-kill mitigation near a populated area.
The Colorado Democrat said he was interested in the Spring Creek project as a chance to see $1 million in federal stimulus money distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act put into action. Because the Spring Creek project is close to houses on Fish Creek Falls Road and in the surrounding neighborhoods, Udall said he was interested to see how the project looked on the ground. He said he also was intrigued by the quick turnaround of the project.
Steamboat Springs was awarded a $1 million grant to mitigate beetle-kill wood near the Spring Creek trail in November. Local company Rogue Resources is handling the removal of trees on about 305 acres. The city applied for $1.6 million and received $1 million. Udall emphasized a need to tap into private industry to find ways to use beetle-kill biomass, as well as the ability of projects such as the Spring Creek effort to provide work.
Referring to the mountain pine beetle epidemic as a “slow-moving natural disaster,” Udall said the next step is to find ways to turn beetle-kill wood into commercial products, including alternative energy products. He also emphasized a need to reduce the amount of fuel for fire if one were to break out.
“What we have is an opportunity to turn this natural disaster into something positive by doing the work of Mother Nature and trying to reduce our fuel loads,” Udall said.
In early February, Udall and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced that $30 million of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to address the mountain pine beetle epidemic would be dedicated to the Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapaho-Roosevelt and White River national forests.
Steamboat Springs district forester John Twitchell led Udall, Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn and Udall staff members on the Spring Creek hike, pointing out areas where loggers had taken down beetle-kill trees and stopping once to point out the pine beetles’ handiwork on a downed tree. The Steamboat Springs district of the Colorado State Forest Service covers Routt, Jackson and Moffat counties.
The mountain pine beetle made its way to Routt County in the 1990s, Twitchell said. Dry years in the early part of this century aggravated damage caused by the beetle, he said.
Twitchell and Udall also discussed other forms of grant funding for beetle-kill mitigation, removing trees from “roadless” conservation areas, and impacts such as mill closures to efforts to remove trees affected by the insect.
The senator was in Steamboat Springs as part of a tour Friday that included stops in Craig and Hayden. In Craig, Udall talked with officials from Moffat, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Routt counties about issues including energy development, water and health care. In Hayden, Udall visited the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center. Udall also was a guest at the Hometown Heroes Celebration in downtown Steamboat on Friday evening.