Editor's Note: Reporter Janice Kurbjun sat down with U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell to chat about the state of our national forests, get perspective on the bark-beetle issue, and chat about the value of partnerships in managing forests. Here's what he and acting regional forester Tony Dixon had to say.
Tom Tidwell: "Yes. It's my understanding that there's about 3.5 million acres that are infested with bark beetle (term includes spruce, fir and lodgepole pine beetle, among others) in the state of Colorado. In the interior West, there's about 21.5 million acres. So this is a problem that goes way beyond Colorado and this region. The difference is that the bark-beetle epidemic here has been ongoing the longest. So we are dealing with some of the effects, and now the dead trees falling down and becoming a serious public safety issue that has to be addressed."
TT: "Bark beetles are native insects to the West. The difference is the rate of spread across the state and to the higher elevations. We never used to have to be concerned with bark beetles at our higher elevations. Especially with our white bark pine species and some of our other five-needle pines and even some of our lodgepole that was at the very highest elevation, because of how cold those areas are. But what we're seeing now is that the bark beetles are able to move into some of those areas and into some of those species that never evolved with the bark beetles, such as the white bark pine. It grows at such a high elevation and the winters were usually so severe that the bark beetles were just never able to survive up there very long."
TT: "North of here, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, you're seeing the same amount of dead trees. There's forests in, say, Montana, where the majority of the forest is now dead. In some places, the trees are just starting to fall down. But we don't have that same level of public concern in other areas north of here just because the trees haven't been dead that long. But as time passes that will become a bigger issue unless we can get in there and remove more of that material. That's one of the things we're looking at: not only to address the issues we have here in Colorado but at the same time be able to work with the problems we see in other states and, in some places, have some more opportunities to deal with dead and dying timber more than what we have here."
TT: "One of the take-home messages (of the Governor's Bark Beetle Summit Nov. 15) is there is a recognition by folks here in Colorado that it is going to take all of us, working together. There's a role and responsibility of the Forest Service, but at the same time, there's a role and responsibility for the state, local government, and the communities, to be able to come together and bring all the resources together to best deal with this. Private enterprise is a key part of that. There are opportunities to look at new markets and develop new infrastructure to help with this issue, not only today, but long term."
TT: "There are numerous partnerships throughout all parts of the country. We do not have a model for everyone to follow for partnerships. Key elements must be in place, such as an understanding of mutual benefits to everyone. And that there's a commitment to work together to accomplish those goals. With a formal model that everyone had to use, that would sometimes be a disincentive." Mountain forests have different issues and approaches than grasslands, he added.
TT: "These partnerships give the opportunity for our public to be more engaged with the natural resources and with their public lands. There's often very valuable work that gets done through our partnership and volunteer efforts, and that's very important. But what's even more important is that opportunity for folks to become engaged and have a better understanding of their natural resources. ... Another key part is it allows us opportunities to not only provide more education or awareness, but it also gives the opportunity to hear from our partners. Whether you're out on the ground working on a project or sitting around having a planning meeting for the next project, it gives us another opportunity to hear about the concerns and questions they have. That then helps us set our priorities on how we move forward on what work needs to be done next and to just have better planning."
TD: "A lot of the partnerships we go into these days have a very educated body of partners that are able to add a tremendous amount to the processes. They're experts as well, and they bring something to the table. ... We recognize and appreciate that solutions to these problems don't just lie with us. They lie with our public as well and we want to tap into that so we are making more informed decisions and are able to carry out our work in a much more effective way."
TT: "There's a high level of awareness and a high level of understanding of the work that needs to be done and what doesn't need to be done. We're going to continue to provide what we can as far as the resources to help address this issue."
TD: "This is not a partisan issue. We have all entities at the table. We expect to continue that and nurture that and hopefully through that process, we're not going to lose momentum and we'll continue to have the attention on this matter that we'll be able to make informed decision collectively."
TT: "We don't have a budget for this year, so we're going to wait until we get that. But we will continue to provide a significant level of resources to continue to address this issue." Dixon added that more information is available about how the forest service has been spending federally-allocated money.
SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.