January 2015
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Friday, January 30, 2015

State News: Wilderness Experts to Congress: Pine Beetle Bad, but Not 'Armageddon'

Congress is set to take a look at the pine beetle outbreak during a hearing this week, and Colorado conservationists will be there to testify. They’ve been joining with local governments to get across a message: The beetle outbreak is a serious problem, but not the ecological Armageddon sometimes portrayed in the media.

Dr. Greg Aplet with The Wilderness Society office in Denver is a forest ecologist who has been studying forests in Colorado for a number of years. He said an important scientific consensus has emerged on the relationship between lodgepole pine forests and these beetles.

“The scale and intensity of the outbreak is unlike any outbreak that we’ve observed before, but that does not mean the end of lodgepole pine in the Rockies,” Aplet said.

Sloan Shoemaker is executive director of the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale. He will testify at the hearing that a changing climate means it’s time to stop trying to adapt the ecosystem to human-built communities.

“We recognize that that’s a fool’s errand,” Shoemaker said. “Now we’re figuring out ways to adapt our communities to be able to sustain themselves in the face of these disturbances.”

It’s important for communities to be prepared for and expect more wildfires, Shoemaker said. He will urge Congress to help provide resources to fight fires without eating into the rest of the Forest Service budget.

Beetles and beetle-killed trees could add to wildfire risk, but it’s not necessarily a cause for major concern, according to Aplet.

“Infrequent, large fires are the norm in lodgepole pine forests, and they’re likely to be in the future, with or without beetles,” he said.

Because there are no known treatments to end the spread of the beetle, Aplet said large fires are to be expected. Those fires would happen with or without the beetles, he added, so it’s important to focus resources on protecting people, property and communities wherever possible. Some have advocated the use of pesticides and hormones to fight the beetle, but given the scope of the problem, it makes more sense to focus scarce resources on a more defensive strategy, Aplet said.

Tuesday’s U.S. House of Representatives joint committee hearing will be before the Natural Resources subcommittees on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and on Water and Power.

— Colorado News Connection

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