Udall Highlights Forest Service Findings to Manage Bark Beetle Epidemic
Requested Report Last Year to Fine-Tune Public Safety, Mitigation Approach
Plans Further Actions to Help Clear Colorado’s Dead Forests, Rejuvenate Forest-Management Industry
Today, Mark Udall announced the findings from a report he requested from the U.S. Forest Service to study the bark beetle epidemic that has consumed millions of acres of Western forests. The report looks at the conditions that contributed to the outbreak, the Forest Service response, ways to address it, and what to expect from the “new forest” as it regenerates. Udall plans to consider these results as he develops legislation that could reauthorize important mitigation and management tools, streamline the process to protect communities and watersheds in “insect emergency areas,” and support the forest-management industry.
“I appreciate the work done by the Rocky Mountain Region and the Rocky Mountain Research Station in compiling this report. As the mountain pine beetle epidemic continues to spread across our Western forests, it’s clear that we need to address the problem more intensely and effectively. I will continue to fight for adequate funding for our forest-management agencies to help them protect our public safety, natural resources and local jobs,” Udall said. “Based on the study’s findings, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to support provisions that have been shown to help the Forest Service and other agencies protect communities and restore watersheds in beetle-kill and wildfire-risk areas.”
The report, which Udall requested last November to identify how he can help the Forest Service better respond to this epidemic, was presented to the Colorado Forest Health Advisory Committee yesterday. Titled “Review of the Forest Service Response: The Bark Beetle Outbreak in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming,” it can be found HERE. Udall will take the findings into account as he considers legislation and develops an updated version of his 2009 bark beetle bill, the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act. Changes that follow from the report include emergency authority for the U.S. Forest Service to clear dead trees for a reasonable cost, reauthorization of the Good Neighbor Authority (which allows the Colorado State Forest Service to partner with the U.S. Forest Service on projects that cross federal-state boundaries), and permanent reauthorization of Stewardship Contracting Authority (which allows the USFS to trade goods for services). He expects to introduce a bill early in 2012.
“I’ll also keep looking for creative ways to support our forest-management industry, which is so important to rural communities. Most recently, I’ve seen how timber contract relief for our state’s few remaining sawmills and getting more homebuilders to use beetle-kill in home construction can help our state economy,” Udall continued. “In particular, I see a promising avenue forward in the new technologies that would create markets for beetle-killed wood. Bark beetles might be here for the long haul in Colorado, but we have an opportunity to mitigate the impact they have on our forests, homes and local economy.”
With the increasing need to clear forests of hazardous trees, Udall has worked on both established and unconventional ways to address the bark beetle epidemic. At a Denver model home built using pine beetle-killed wood in September, Udall called on Colorado homebuilders to use beetle-killed trees in their homebuilding in order to simultaneously clear local forests and create local jobs. In August, he also worked with the Forest Service to give struggling timber sale purchasers, including three Colorado sawmills and several independent loggers, the option to cancel their pre-recession timber contracts to spur Colorado’s timber industry.
Below are a few highlights from the report findings:
• What were the conditions that led to the outbreak? While bark beetles are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, they are now killing trees in larger numbers, at faster rates, over longer time periods, and over larger areas compared to past outbreaks. The complete picture of why this is happening remains unclear, but it includes climate change, previous forest-management practices that had suppressed wildfire and harvested timber selectively, and a prolonged drought that has stressed trees and made them more vulnerable. Forest treatments such as timber harvest and thinning could have helped, but there was a general lack of public acceptance for logging. In addition, funding for thinning projects did not keep up with the pace of the outbreak and only about 25 percent of the forests are even accessible for most timber-management practices, due to steep slopes, lack of road access, or special designations like wilderness. Finally, Colorado’s timber industry has declined by 63 percent since 1986, to the point where there are fewer sawmills and experienced forest workers in the state.
• What is the USFS doing about the outbreak? With only limited funds available, the USFS has prioritized protecting human life, public infrastructure, and critical water supplies by removing dead trees from hazardous areas. They have also made grants to wood companies to stimulate new technologies that would create markets for dead trees. The U.S. Forest Service has made good use temporary tools – such as the Good Neighbor and Stewardship Contracting authorities – to help address the problem and supports Congress making these authorities permanent.
• What is the impact of the outbreak on wildland fire and water quality and quantity? Research shows that the impact of pine beetle infestation on wildfire is unclear and will vary depending on ignition sources and weather. In addition, the pine beetle infestation itself has no significant impact on water quantity or quality. However, note that catastrophic wildfire – regardless of whether it is in green or beetle-kill forests – can cause expensive problems for Colorado water providers as siltation from burned ground runs into streams and reservoirs.
• What will the “New Forest” look like? Scientists are working hard to understand what the forest will look like after the epidemic has run its course. Studies suggest that the future forest will look different based on what type of management we decide to use now. For example, if stands are harvested, it is likely that lodgepole pine will return. However, if there is no treatment the forest tends to grow back as subalpine fir.