5:00am

Mon May 26, 2014
Environment

USFS Advances Forest Thinning Due To Beetles, Disease

Credit Colorado State Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service is accelerating mitigation work on nearly 10 million acres of national forest lands in Colorado that are at higher risk of wildfires due to beetle infestation and disease.

“We know, and there’s a lot of scientific information to back that when a forest is thinned and the fuels are reduced when fire comes on to that portion of the forest, its severity goes down,” said Rick Cooksey, a director with the Forest Service in the Rocky Mountain region.

Credit V Smoothie / Flickr/CreativeCommons

“We are trying to increase the pace and the scale of the work we’re doing,” Cooksey said.

That work could include trails and road access being restricted as the forests are thinned. Cooksey said the forest service is ramping up its removal of trees, especially in the Rio Grande, San Juan and Gunnison forests which have been the hardest hit by beetles.

“We’re really seeing a move with the spruce beetle toward higher elevations and over a million acres have been impacted since 1996,” he said. “And it’s going to increase. It’s going to continue to increase for several years. So we have challenges, but you need to know this is natural and has been happening for millennia.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently requested the creation of a $954 million disaster funding pool to avoid dipping into fire-prevention programs. Cooksey notes that the cost of managing wildfires takes up 40 percent of the Forest Service’s budget.