Mark Udall: Continuing the fight for bark-beetle mitigation funding



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Mark Udall

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? How about an entire forest?

Every spring and summer, the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado’s forests takes on added dimensions. Rather than the green and gold we’ve used as backdrops to family portraits and souvenir postcards, receding snows reveal new swaths of rust-red forest that have succumbed to bark beetles.

Colorado is ground zero for the bark beetle epidemic, which has left millions of acres of dead and dying trees across our state and the Mountain West.

The risk to our homes and families, critical infrastructure and watersheds, and tourism and recreational areas intensifies with each passing year as the epidemic turns the tree stands in our backyards into kindling. Throw into the mix too many warm winters and extremely dry vegetation and we have a pot waiting to boil over.

The potential disaster from wildfires fueled by dead trees makes this an emergency we can’t ignore. Even though the red flag for our homegrown disaster comes much quieter, the potential fallout from successively bad fires could be just as devastating to our communities as earthquakes or hurricanes have been elsewhere.

We’re four months into the year, and forestry experts already are saying the Colorado fire season is shaping up to be a record year, the worst since the season of the Hayman Fire in 2002. The front pages of our hometown newspapers have tracked more than 3,600 acres burning in one fire, 300 homes evacuated in another, and countless state and federal dollars poured into fighting numerous others across the state.

Anyone who has fought fires or done mitigation work can tell you that fires are fickle creatures, capable of flaring to outrageous proportions in one moment and dying in the next. All the money and resources we could throw at it wouldn’t guarantee future fires will be prevented, but we can find ways to reduce the devastation they wreak and protect our forests and state economy in the process.

I’ve been fighting for many years to make sure Washington, D.C., understands the serious threat and the need for resources and legislative change to deal with the damage from beetle-killed trees and the serious health and safety threats they pose to Coloradans.

At my urging, the U.S. Forest Service successfully reprogrammed $40 million in fiscal year 2010 to go toward beetle-killed forests, but those funds were just a drop in the bucket compared with the scale of the problem. That’s why last October I led a bipartisan group of Western senators in asking the administration to redirect an additional $49 million in unspent money to help address beetle-killed forests. Our request has, as yet, gone unfulfilled.

In March, I sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell urging him to do a full accounting of available Forest Service funds for both fire suppression and those that may be reprogrammed for bark-beetle mitigation efforts. I’m hopeful that the U.S. Forest Service will act on my request and that others in Washington will heed the emergency in Western forests. My letter also generated more than 6,000 signatures of support from Coloradans who are understandably frustrated at the slow progress in addressing this crisis.

The ongoing budget showdowns we face in Congress today highlight the many difficult decisions we face about how to use federal resources — but I think that preventing a major wildfire because of beetle-killed trees is an urgent need. Beyond protecting our homes and watersheds, taking action now makes fiscal sense, because we know firsthand in Colorado that fighting a fire ultimately could be much more expensive than preventing one.

We can’t afford further delay. We are losing not just our picturesque mountainsides and forest ecosystems, but our Colorado way of life. We need action now, and I promise to continue working on legislation so that when a beetle-killed tree falls in Colorado, people in Washington hear — and act on — it.

Mark Udall is a Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado.


John Kinkaid 6 years ago

Having read this letter by Sen. Udall, I would like to know what the plan is to restore our forests and their beauty. Does it include planting new trees?


Kerrie Cooper 6 years ago

Mark I hate to tell ya but fire suppression is what has caused our forests to become so sick in the first place. Fire is the best cleanser of nature's and the fact that gov't started the "Smokey-Stop forest fires now" campaign years ago was the worst thing that could have happened to our natural areas.

There's nothing more than the forests need than a good fire to burn up and re-nourish the forest floor. Man chose to build their homes in the middle of the trees and for that, they must accept the inherent danger of them burning down as a consequence of the homeowner's decision. It's no different than the individuals that build million dollar homes right on the coastlines then cry when the waves carry them away or erosion makes them fall down a cliff. Man is so completely disconnected to the earth and so arrogant it is hard to believe. Native Americans understood the importance of fires to creating lush new ecosystems year after year because they didn't value their property above the earth, the way our society does now. Wake up Mark and get a clue!


1999 6 years ago

Jasonbourne....a local initiative to "retree colorado" went down last year . 14K trees were planted in Routt country in one day.

I hope the initiatve will happen again this year.

they are always in need of volunteers


seeuski 6 years ago

Having had lunch with a front range scientist working on this problem recently, I was informed of a scientific paper she will be authoring sometime in the next few months that explains the results of a multi-year investigation. Her results are very thorough and show no correlation to the claim by many of AGW as a factor. Stay tuned for this paper as the answers are very interesting.


Kerrie Cooper 6 years ago

No offense seeuski it doesn't take a scientist to know the obvious. Native cultures lacked "scientists," yet have known the obvious, (due to their connection to the earth) for years and years. Look where science, PHds and all have gotten us today. How many have had doctorates and/or masters degrees yet, engineered power plants to build alongside the oceanfronts (look at Japan's crisis & the effect on the ocean), or the pesticides and chemicals that now pose a threat every bite of food we eat not to mention the endless medicines that it seems everyone is addicted to & the list could go on for pages. I believe (2) entities are directly responsible for destroying this earth, (1) the churches & religions for separating us from the earth & discouraging birth control and (2) the scientists that have altered the geology, and physical properties, etc found on earth to make for an easier life. Now we get to live with the end result!

Forget scientists (& religion), I'd take old native knowledge (& lifestyle) ANYDAY.


the_Lizard 6 years ago

Fire supression = money for the USFS. This site may be slanted but the numbers are right. "Total national forest fire expenditures have more than quadrupled in the last 15 years.11 Fire expenditures have grown from about 10 percent of the Forest Service budget in the early 1990s to more than 40 percent today." "Forest managers have known for decades that some fires should be allowed to burn for the good of forest ecosystems. But from the beginning, Congress has given a virtual blank check to the Forest Service for fire suppression activities, and much of the spending has been of dubious value." Forest fires are healthy for forests as is logging. IMO the USFS and BLM should be cut back to 1950's size. The forest hasn't grown, just the bureaucracy waste and fraud.


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

Udall's mission is to bring home some bacon, in order to let us know what a good deal we are getting.


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