Pine beetles burrow in to Colorado politics

One local elected official calls various efforts 'a lot of political chest-beating'

Photo by Brad Odekirk/Summit Daily
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Several pine-beetle plans are being pushed by Colorado's elected offficials, though they are not all working together.
Brad Odekirk/Summit Daily


Bob Berwyn
November 7, 2005

SUMMIT COUNTY - Partisan politics, from Washington, D.C. right down to the local level, may be hampering efforts to address the beetle invasion that is ravaging lodgepole pine forests across the West Slope of Colorado.

"Everybody's got their own little thing they're trying to push through, to be the local hero. It looks like it's coming down to a lot of political chest-beating," said County Commissioner Tom Long. "They seem to think it's an opportunity for partisan political grandstanding."

On Wednesday, for example, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard met with U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to talk about pine beetles, then pointed a finger at environmental groups and courts for delaying forest health projects.


Photo by Summit Daily/Reid Williams
Once mountain pine beetles have invaded a tree, pitch tubes, the gooey disposal chutes left behind by the bugs, are visible on the trunk, often accompanied by sawdust on the ground.
Summit Daily/Reid Williams

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Allard said Bosworth blamed a California court decision requiring more public review of certain Forest Service projects for creating an impediment to dealing with pine beetles. Allard also said he will try to help create more markets for the insect-damaged wood.

Allard called for more use of dead trees to create energy. Citing "fuel-for-schools" programs in Idaho and Montana, he said the biomass energy program should be expanded to all federal buildings.

At the same time, Democratic Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar released a draft version of a mountain pine beetle relief bill, while Sen. Ken Salazar, also a Democrat, announced a bark beetle study relief act that requires the Forest Service to report back to Congress with an action plan.

"No wonder the Forest Service doesn't know which way to go," said Long, a Republican. "They've got some good people in there who know what needs to be done, but they're not going to stick their neck out and just start cutting trees. They're caught in the politics."

Getting the Colorado delegation on the same page could be key to getting federal funding for pine beetles, but it looks like that level of cooperation is far from reality.

"I thought most states sat down and caucused on some of these vital issues, but it doesn't sound like this has happened," said Long. "The same tired legislation that didn't pass last year gets a facelift and they try it again."

"If we're going to see anything done in a way that's timely and meaningful, they must be unified," added Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace. "I know Mark (Udall) has been working very hard to try and get everybody working together on this, but Allard is in lockstep with the Republican leadership."