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Aspen symposium will put focus on health of the forest

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

Political and forest heavyweights will convene in Aspen this month for a symposium that puts the spotlight on the mountain pine beetle epidemic and what various communities are doing about it.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and, perhaps, the newly appointed U.S. under secretary for natural resources and environment, are scheduled to speak at the gathering, as is the entomologist who is assessing the results of an experimental effort undertaken near Aspen to slow the spread of the destructive beetles.

“There are some very, very interesting people coming, including some people who are very well known elsewhere, but not well known in Colorado,” said John Bennett, executive director of For the Forest, the local nonprofit that is hosting the Dec. 17 event.

Bennett is among the day’s speakers. He will wrap up the symposium with a discussion of For the Forest’s plans for the coming year, including collaborations with the U.S. Forest Service, the Independence Pass Foundation and the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association to protect trails and specific areas of the forest in the Aspen area and upper Roaring Fork Valley.

For the Forest was a partner in an experiment last summer on Smuggler Mountain, along with the city of Aspen and Pitkin County. The project, an attempt to slow the spread of pine beetles on 130 acres of city-county open space, included the removal of 202 lodgepole pines infested with beetle larvae and the use of a pheromone that fools adult beetles into leaving healthy trees alone.

The effort and follow-up collection and analysis of data cost close to $160,000 in public and private funding. Whether the project was worthwhile may become clearer with a presentation by Nancy Gillette, principal research entomologist with the Forest Service’s Southwest Research Station. She is analyzing the data.

The symposium is timed to, hopefully, coincide with the release of results from the Smuggler project, Bennett said, but the broader goal is to bring together various entities that are either fighting the beetle or trying to mitigate the effects of the insects on forest health. Mountain pine beetles have left huge swaths of forests dead across Colorado and the West.

“It’s a chance for communities around Colorado to hear what other communities are doing and learn from each other,” Bennett said.

The symposium – it’s free and open to the public – begins at 1 p.m. in the ballroom at the Hotel Jerome with an introduction by Rick Cables, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. The afternoon portion of the symposium will feature speakers from U.S. and Canadian communities that are taking action to mitigate the effects of the beetle; a panel of experts led by White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams; Michael Powelson, director of governmental relations in the western division of The Nature Conservancy, speaking on a watershed project in Santa Fe; and Boulder open space official Terese Glowacki discussing opportunities to convert forest biomass into green energy.

The daytime portion of the program will conclude with a 4:15 p.m. session on the latest techniques and technologies available for local landowners to protect the pines on their property.

The evening session begins at 5:15 p.m. with remarks by Ritter, who has appointed a Healthy Forest Advisory Committee and whose Governor’s Energy Office is exploring the use of biomass from beetle-killed trees as an energy source.

Then, Gillette is expected to present preliminary study results from the Smuggler Mountain project.

Harris Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service and national forests as under secretary within the U.S Department of Agriculture, is tentatively scheduled to speak shortly after 6 p.m. about the national perspective on the pine beetle and healthy forest management. Sherman, former director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, committed to participating while serving in the state post, but his participation became tentative when he was appointed to his federal position, Bennett said.

Bennett’s presentation will close the symposium.

Those who plan to attend are asked to go to http://www.fortheforest.org to register.

janet@aspentimes.com