Beetle epidemic eating USFS funds
The White River National Forest spent $10.4 million last year to deal with consequences of the bark beetle infestation that has ravaged lodgepole pine trees, according to Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
The forest will likely receive another $6 million this year, Fitzwilliams said, but it will take years of work to deal with the most-pressing of the problems created by the epidemic.
The $10.4 million was spent primarily on safety issues. “A big emphasis is on hazard-tree removal from roads, trails and campgrounds,” said Jan Burke, a silviculturist with the forest supervisor’s office. Timber sales have also been awarded to remove dead and dying trees in “interface” areas where wildlands meet urban areas.
In many cases, contracts awarded last year out of the $10.4 million pot were for projects that will continue for a minimum of three years and often for five years, she said. For example, crews started marking hazard trees that must be removed in the forest around Aspen last year but removal won’t begin until this year at the earliest.
However, some work has been completed. Hazard trees were removed along 50 miles of roads and preparations were made for removal of trees along another 75 miles this year, according to a report by the forest supervisor’s office.
Hazard trees were also removed from 14 miles of trails last year and preparations were made for removal from another 25 miles of trails, the report said. Some trees were also removed from power-line corridors.
Another $1.7 million was awarded to remove dead and dying trees on about 1,400 acres of the wildland-urban interface and additional salvage-timber sales were awarded.
Despite that start, the report demonstrates the enormity of the task dealing with the beetle-killed trees.
“The risk of falling trees is escalating at an increasing rate, representing a true threat to the safety of the recreating public as well as USFS employees on the White River National Forest,” the report said. “In all, over 50,000 acres of hazard tree mitigation work has been identified along roads and trails and within developed recreation sites.”
Work must be done in 11 ski areas, 119 developed campgrounds and recreation sites, and along 566 miles of trails and 1,387 miles of roads, the report said. Roughly 450 miles of power transmission line in the forest are also threatened by falling trees, the agency has determined.
Another focus of the effort is on forest restoration. Burke said 90,000 seedlings of sub-alpine fir and spruce trees will be planted in areas where large swaths of lodgepoles were wiped out “and that’s just a drop in the bucket,” she said.
The work is spread over 2.3 million acres. The sprawling White River National Forest extends from southwest of Rifle to east of Dillon and Breckenridge, and from north of Glenwood Springs and Meeker to south of Aspen. Eagle and Summit counties have been hit particularly hard by the beetle epidemic.
Burke said mitigation projects in the Aspen area are focused on ski areas, campgrounds and in parts of the forest like Red Mountain adjacent to Starwood subdivision.
Dealing with hazard trees has put the cash-strapped agency in an even tougher position. The White River’s operating budget has remained flat over the last decade, according to the report. Additional funds have been received the last three years to deal specifically with beetle mitigation.
To put the funding challenge into perspective, the White River received $10.4 million for beetle mitigation last year while it had $18.1 million for all other operating expenses.
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