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Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region timber budget axed

by Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

In spite of being one of only two U.S. Forest regions to meet timber program targets for 2007, the U.S. Forest Service timber budgets for the upcoming year reflect a 31 percent decrease in funds for the Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Colorado.

“We’re pretty shocked about that,” said Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

“It’s the timber budgets. That’s where money is to deal with a lot of our bark beetle stuff, that’s what’s shocking to us,” he said.

The Rocky Mountain Region includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Timber budget funds are being used to get dead and infested beetle-kill trees out of landscapes to create fire fuel breaks and make room for new growth.

Timber harvest sales are the Forest Service’s primary tool for doing this.

The money pays for “all of what’s necessary to offer a sale,” said Sulphur Ranger District Chief Craig Magwire. Timber budgets provide for environmental analyses, crew members who go out and identify areas that need to be harvested, the administration of putting contracts together and awarded, and the management of those harvests.

In terms of overall fuels reduction, the Sulphur Ranger District now has less to work with than last year, Magwire said.

Less money means fewer areas can be added to the district’s Healthy Forests list.

“We will still just stay focused on the high priority projects in the Sulphur Ranger District that our community has deemed we need to get done,” Magwire said.

Only the southeastern states suffered a higher-percent reduction compared to the Rocky Mountain Region. The southeast is getting 32 percent less than last year.

Colorado lawmakers are wondering why the significant cut took place after the Rocky Mountain Region successfully produced its promised volume of timber sales last year.

They have since written a letter to Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell to try to and influence an adjustment.

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard is among leaders from both Colorado and fellow states of the region who signed the letter.

“The senator is somewhat frustrated by the lack of funding, especially since in our region, where we not only have the need for funds and public support for more Forest Service work, but an exemplary track record of efficiently using allocated funds,” said Allard’s spokesman Steve Wymer.

The letter to Kimbell states that the insufficient funding for the national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region could not be happening at a worst time when landowners who have been responsible stewards to their lands are “seeking increased levels of activity on adjacent federal lands.”

“Nearly every forest in the Rocky Mountain Region is experiencing epidemic levels of bark beetle mortality, and many of our constituents understand all too well that our forests are just one lightning strike or careless incident away from a catastrophic fire that threatens each resource,” the letter states.

According to Severson, the delegation is being reasonable, asking for a 2008 budget “at least equal to what last year’s was.”

“Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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