From his office in Laramie, Wyo., Phil Cruz already is gazing out beyond winter to the day in 2011 when the snow melts and the forests of Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming are dry enough for crews to resume the work of removing beetle-killed timber.
Cruz was named this week to replace Mary Peterson as supervisor of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. After two years as deputy supervisor, he’s now ultimately responsible for 3.1 million acres of public land stretching all the way to northeastern Wyoming.
“There’s a lot going on here right now,” Cruz said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s a huge landscape. You can almost see Montana and South Dakota from the edge of the Grassland.”
Private contractors and Forest Service crews are continuing to squeeze as much fuel mitigation work as they can out of this unusually mild fall, not just on the Routt National Forest surrounding Steamboat Springs, but on the neighboring White and Arapaho national forests, Cruz said.
“Everything is dependent on how much funding comes through, but the length and intensity of the winter plays into how soon we’ll get started in the spring,” Cruz said. “Absolutely, this is our top priority. We’ve accomplished quite a lot over the last couple of years, and we’ve ramped up our workload. Human health and safety will continue to be our focus with bark beetle mitigation, and that takes us directly to the (wildland fire) urban interface.”
Also critical in the forest’s efforts, Cruz said, are infrastructure, from forest roads and recreational facilities to power lines and water storage and transfer facilities.
Cruz pointed to a recently announced partnership with Denver Water as evidence of the increasing level of collaboration on attacking the beetle-kill mitigation issues. Cooperation among three national forests to address the security of power lines also is in the works, he said.
Funding for future beetle-kill efforts is uncertain, Cruz said, but what remains constant is planning for the next round of fuel removal efforts.
“Everything we do on the ground has to go through NEPA (The National Environmental Policy Act),” he said. “We’re working continuously to analyze and disclose now what can be accomplished next year. Fortunately, we have a good pipeline of work established.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is working on a new funding bill, the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act, which was passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in August but is awaiting approval by the full Senate.
Roots in Oregon’s Cascades
Cruz has a degree in forestry from Oregon State University. He was named district ranger of the Crescent Ranger District south of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest in 1993 and moved north to the Bend/Fort Rock District in May 2005.
Regional Forester Rick Cables said Cruz was selected from a field of highly qualified applicants for his new role in Laramie.
“Phil Cruz will represent the Forest Service very well in the local communities and throughout the region,” Cables wrote in a prepared statement.