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Feds put $40 million hit out on bark beetles

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Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the federal government would devote $40 million to dealing with the bark-beetle problem that's turned wooded areas in Colorado and other western states from green to brown.

Governor Bill Ritter, who wrote a letter to Vilsack making a request for federal assistance (read it here), immediately responded with an attaboy, as did other leaders. Of course, anyone who's driven down I-70 lately and seen the extent of the problem understands that $40 million is unlikely to make everything better, especially considering what a wide swath of land here and elsewhere has been affected. But something clearly had to be done before everywhere in Colorado started resembling the Great Sand Dunes. Check out the USDA and Ritter releases below:

USDA release:


WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that U.S. Forest Service will commit an additional $40 million to address public safety concerns and forest health needs arising from the millions of acres of dead and dying trees from bark beetle infestations in the West. Vilsack made the announcement on a conference call with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.

"Forest lands play a critical role in providing clean water and a healthier climate for all Americans, and the USDA is committed to protecting and preserving this important resource from pests like the bark beetle," said Vilsack. "These funds will help address the growing threat posed by the bark beetle to millions of acres of forests across the Western United States."

The additional funding will be provided to the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, where some of the most serious levels of infestation are located. Included in this total will be five million dollars of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that the Forest Service has been using to reduce the threat of wildfires. Additional funds will also be directed to the other western Regions.

Today's announcement will help make forests more resilient to climate change and protect and preserve them for future generations, key goals of the new vision for America's forests outlined by Vilsack earlier this year. Bark beetle is in epidemic stages across the Rocky Mountain region. The impacts have been especially severe in the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, where over 2.5 million acres have been affected. The epidemic has had a severe impact on forest health and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the danger of trees falling on roads, trails and recreation areas. In addition, these dead and dying trees greatly increase the risk of fire danger in the communities of the Rocky Mountain Region and elsewhere in forested areas of the United States.

"These funds will help the Forest Service address this significant public safety and forest health priority," said Forest Service Chief Tidwell. "Employees of the Rocky Mountain Region and in other areas of the Forest Service will be able to make changes to their planned program of work in order to more aggressively focus on our Bark Beetle efforts."

Chief Tidwell said the Forest Service will work closely with the Administration and Congress to assure the increased funding is directed to the bark beetle impacted areas as quickly as possible.

Governor Ritter's press release:


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gov. Bill Ritter today joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to announce that the U.S. Forest Service has committed an additional $40 million to help fight the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado and other Western states.

Gov. Ritter thanked Secretary Vilsack and the Obama administration for listening to mounting concerns from Colorado and other states and responding so quickly. Gov. Ritter sent Secretary Vilsack a letter last month (attached) requesting the additional financial support. The beetle already has ravaged 2 million acres of mountain forests in Colorado, with an estimated 3 million more in jeopardy.

"The combined effects of massive bark beetle epidemics, the perennial risk of catastrophic wildfire, and a struggling forest industry have left forests throughout Colorado and other Western states at great risk," Gov. Ritter said on a conference call with Secretary Vilsack and members of the media. "Our economy, communities, water supplies, property and citizens are threatened. Even in a tough economy like this, we cannot afford to ignore these challenges or these risks.

"My administration has been working closely with local government, the legislature and many other stakeholders to address this problem," Gov. Ritter said. "But state and local action alone isn't enough to fully address these critical needs. With a majority of forested lands in federal ownership, we need a strong partner in Washington. Today, you've shown us what a strong partner you are. On behalf of the citizens of Colorado and my fellow Western Governors, thank you for securing this vital funding. Thank you for listening, and thank you for leading."

Three Colorado lawmakers who work closely on forest health issues also praised today's announcement:

"Last summer, state Rep. Christine Scanlan and I traveled to Washington D.C. to ask for the federal government to act," said Sen. Dan Gibbs. "I'm so happy to see them taking a part in fighting our bark beetle epidemic. Colorado's landscape, ecology, and communities depend on it."

"I'm thrilled that Washington, D.C., is finally heeding our warnings," Rep. Scanlan said. "We have a long way to go, but this funding will provide an important bulwark for our vital watersheds and vibrant mountain communities."

"This is an important step toward cleaning up our worst beetle-kill forests," Sen. Al White said. "Ultimately this will help reduce the threat to life and property."

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