Steamboat Springs The $30 million committed Monday to Colorado by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to address the mountain pine beetle epidemic will continue existing efforts to remove hazard trees, said Steve Segin, a Forest Service spokesman for the Rocky Mountain region.
U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet announced the funding would be dedicated to the Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapaho-Roosevelt and White River national forests, where about 3 million lodgepole pine trees have died.
In an e-mail, Udall, D-Colo., referred to the mountain pine beetle epidemic as “one of the West’s biggest natural disasters.”
“We can’t afford to lose one of our state’s most precious resources,” Udall said in the e-mail. “So I’ve worked with the Forest Service on this issue for many years as a member of the House and now the Senate, and I have fought for federal funding to help stop bark beetles from eating away our forests and to address the damage they’ve already caused.”
Udall said he and Bennet, D-Colo., last year urged the Forest Service to dedicate funding to the state and Rocky Mountain region to combat the mountain pine beetle epidemic. He said that letter led to the funding announcement.
Udall said although it hasn’t been determined how the funding will be spent, the Forest Service will prioritize the removal of hazard trees in areas that are of the greatest risk to people and infrastructure.
Segin said he wasn’t sure whether it was determined how much of the funding would be dedicated to Routt-Medicine Bow near Steamboat Springs. He said the funding is intended to “triage” areas of greatest concern, which included removing dead trees close to campgrounds, along trails and roads and near residential areas to reduce the possibility of fires.
“There are significant risks to public safety and infrastructure,” Segin said. “There are dead trees that are going to be falling. … (This funding) will significantly reduce some of these risks to public safety.”
The funding likely would be split between local contractors and the Forest Service to remove trees, Segin said. He couldn’t say how that would be determined.
Segin did say that planning for the tree removal projects already has begun and that work should start in spring.
Udall called the funding a “huge win for our state.”
“Besides making our communities safer, it will help create jobs,” he said. “We’ll have to employ people to cut down trees, haul them out of the forest and recycle for other uses.”
The Forest Service announced a total of $40 million Monday to combat the mountain pine beetle epidemic, including the $30 million for Coloado. Of the remainder, Wyoming will receive $8 million, and South Dakota will receive $2 million, The Associated Press reported.
Of the $30 million, the senators announced that $2 million would help address the spruce beetle and other forest health issues on the Western Slope and in southern Colorado.
A similar effort
A tree-removal project funded through a $1 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant the city of Steamboat Springs received is moving quicker than anticipated.
Mike Miller, of Rogue Resources, said that since late November the company has cleared 80 acres of the 305-acre project that stretches from Spring Creek to the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.
“If we don’t get any more weather than this and the weather stays cold, we’ll be ahead of schedule,” he said.
The project originally was scheduled to take a year with breaks for weather.