Granby " Officials share information about beetle kill funding, programs
Sky-Hi Daily News
In an attempt to bring Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) information to those in the eye of the mountain pine beetle storm, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) hosted a gathering at Granby’s Town Hall on Saturday.
The meeting started out with the basics, as North Area Forester Dave Farmer of the Colorado State Forest Service handed Udall a pine cone as a reminder that the present state of the region’s forests is temporary; nature is in a constant state of change.
Pine cones, with their ability to re-seed the forest floor, offer nature’s solution to the epidemic. Heat in the form of fire may be one way that will happen.
Farmer said he put the pine cone in the microwave once just to demonstrate how it works.
After Farmer shared information on what resources are available to communities through the State Forest Service, still holding the pine cone, Udall thanked Farmer for his presentation.
“I’ll put this on my desk, and if I get bored, I’ll pop it in the microwave,” he quipped.
Commissioners from a four-county area attended the workshop, as well as town officials, U.S. Forest Service staff, Grand County natural resources and emergency management staff, fire district representatives and a team of department heads from FEMA.
The workshop explained what grant programs are available for Colorado communities to minimize the effects of disasters such as wildfires or floods and helped local officials understand how FEMA may assist when wildfires start.
During a presentation, Wildland Risk Coordinator Christina Randall of the Colorado Springs Fire Department demonstrated how the El Paso County community was able to work effectively with the state and FEMA to reduce wildland interface risk in their community.
On the state level, the attention to the problem is becoming as widespread as the beetles themselves.
In neighboring Summit, Eagle and Routt counties, for example, community round tables are springing up to get organized, according to state Sen. Dan Gibbs of District 16.
Through legislation called the Community Water Forest Restoration Grant, introduced by Gibbs last year as HB 1140, the State Forest Service was able to issue 12 grants averaging around $80,000 each. Four of those grants were in Grand, Eagle and Summit counties. Because of the bill, Grand Lake is able to conduct a large-scale tree removal project this spring, spending $250,000 to rid the town of dead and dying lodgepoles. About 60 percent of the money for the project is coming from grants.
Gibbs is reintroducing the same legislation this year in the form of SB 71 and is encouraging other communities, landowners, fire departments and homeowner’s groups that have community wildfire protection plans, such as Grand County, to take advantage of the legislation to help with tree removal efforts.
The state also provides fire assistance grants for rural fire departments and technical assistance to landowners, as well as Colorado Wildland Urban Interface grants, according to Farmer.
But funds are still slim in terms of helping private landowners with their tree removal.
On the federal level, it was announced that Sen. Wayne Allard, Republican leader on the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee, secured $12 million in funding to address the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado. Of the $12 million, $8 million is for the U.S. Forest Service to address federal lands, and $4 million is earmarked for grants to address state and private lands.
Members of the Colorado congressional delegation, which Executive Director Gary Severson of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments credits for being unified on the mountain pine beetle front, have also introduced a bill for forest health, SB 1797, to assist in addressing the beetle infestation throughout the region.
It’s good timing, in light of regional foresters announcing earlier this month that another 500,000 acres of beetle-affected trees have been added to the existing 1 million acres in the 11th year of the beetle epidemic.
Asked by Severson how the bill is progressing, Udall was only semi-optimistic.
“We’re pushing for hearings,” he said. “Where pushing it through, but there’s about a 50 to 50 percent chance of getting it through this Congress.”
Tom McGarry of the Kremmling pellet plant encouraged regional officials to “think green, build blue,” and find uses for beetle-kill wood. McGarry said his pellet plant, which he said will employ local subcontractors and workers, will be able to help keep wood waste out of the local landfills.
In studying the area’s standing dead timber, he continued, he and others have concluded that wood can hold its integrity for eight to 10 years for the purposes of his business.
County Commissioner James Newberry alerted state and federal officials the unintended consequences of trying to keep material out of the landfill as it stands.
With burning the great amounts of tree material, air quality problems are the unwanted result.
But wildfire remains the foremost concern on the minds of Grand County residents. Stacey Mikelson, grants manager of the Grand County Council on Aging, voiced the importance of a countywide special-needs evacuation plan in the case of an area wildfire.
She estimates there are 3,000 home-bound elderly and feeble in the county who would need help with evacuation and transportation, as well as a place to stay. She encouraged other regional communities newer to the problem to start thinking about that necessity now.
And Grand County’s Office of Emergency Management Manager Mike Stern alerted those in the room about Grand County’s emergency Web page, which will have up-to-the-minute necessary information in the case of a catastrophic emergency. The Web site is http://www.gcemergency.com.
State Rep. Christine Scanlan of District 56, which includes Summit, Lake and a portion of Eagle County, gave Grand County a plug. Now that the problem is hitting hard in other areas of the state, she said she now realizes what Grand County, an area of Middle Park that has faced the epidemic for the last 10 years, has dealt with alone.
“Grand County,” Scanlan said, “was like the canary in a coal mine that not nearly enough people paid attention to.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.
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