Congressman joins mountain beetle battle

Forest epidemic seen as threatening mountain tourism industry

Photo by Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk
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Trees in the late stages of infection with mountain pine beetles show tattered limbs and red needles.
Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk

Bob Berwyn
October 7, 2005

GRAND COUNTY — If words could kill bugs, then Colorado’s battle against tree-munching insects might not seem as daunting as described by speaker after speaker at a mountain pine beetle summit held Wednesday in Winter Park.

The meeting, organized by Eagle County’s Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, was aimed at coming up with ideas to deal with the bugs turning trees rusty brown as they kill mountain forests.

According to Udall, a new bill he intends to introduce soon in Washington, D.C. might help.

“The federal government has a role to play. We don’t have all the answers, but we need to look at what’s working and what changes could be made,” Udall said, explaining that he’s drafting what’s tentatively called the bark beetle relief act.
Udall said the measure could authorize the Forest Service to hire additional employees and increase funding to federal agencies to respond to beetle threats.
“This has been a terrible problem for Colorado,” said Colorado Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, who represents Summit County.

“It’s a visual problem and a safety problem. Maybe there’s some economic development that can come out of this. Maybe we can take this problem and make it work to our best advantage.”

Timber industry comeback?

State timber industry officials were also on hand Wednesday as officials acknowledged that addressing the beetle problem will require extensive collaboration with private businesses to cut and process the dead and dying trees, which are more flammable than lives trees.
In Summit County last month, a small wildfire became more severe because it burned in trees killed by beetles. Dead trees also played a role in a 20,000-acre-plus fire in the Flat Tops Wilderness, which sprawls into northwest Eagle County, in 2002.
“Catastrophic fires in our watersheds could unravel the fabric of life here in Colorado,” said Mark Morgan of the Colorado Timber Industry Association. “You have to have an economic engine to keep this kind of work affordable, and you have to have sustainable, long-term forest management policies so you’re not managing from crisis to crisis.”

The problem is that the timber industry in Colorado has dwindled in the past few decades. There simply aren’t enough commercial logging operations to process the tremendous amount of timber.

“The public spent 25 years trying to put me out of business and the last five years trying to work me to death,” Morgan said, describing the see-saw shifts in public attitudes about logging.

Jump-starting the timber industry would require a significant commitment of public resources up front, Morgan said, explaining that no businessman is going to be willing to make a multi-million dollar investment in a logging or sawmill operation unless there’s a decent chance to get a return on it.

Bob Berwyn can be contacted at

Vail Colorado