Beetles Tax Mountain Communities

The scenic drive on I-70 from Denver to Vail has been marred by the browning of the national forests caused by the pine beetle outbreak. Mountain residents could face horrific forest fires if the beetle-kill problem isn’t resolved. In response, Rep. Dan Gibbs, whose district includes Summit and Eagles Counties, has proposed creating a pilot program for forest restoration projects.As reported in the Summit Daily:

“When people think of The Beatles they’re no longer thinking of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, they’re starting to think of the bark beetle problems we’re facing in the High Country,” Gibbs said.

If House Bill 1130 is signed into law, the state would contribute $1 million per year for the next five years to fund cost-sharing grants for forest restoration projects on private, federal, state, county or municipal lands affected by the mountain pine beetle.

The money would come from the operational account of the severance tax fund. Projects would need to address objectives like reducing the threat of wildfires, preserving old and large trees and replanting trees in deforested areas.

Gibbs purposely scheduled Wednesday’s hearing to coincide with the release of the Colorado State Forest Service’s annual report on the health of the state’s forests.

The report says that Colorado is experiencing the largest mountain pine beetle outbreak in its history with 660,000 infested acres, compared with 500,000 infested acres in 2005.

“There were about four times as many recently killed trees per acre in 2006 than 2005,” the report says.

Gibbs also touted the diverse support for his bill – representatives from the Colorado Timber Industry Association and The Wilderness Society, an environmental protection group, both testified in support of his legislation.

One little caveat: The proposed financing source of this program is mineral severance taxes-up to a million a year. That “Golden Goose” is getting plucked regularly this legislative session and some of the bills and programs dependent upon severance tax as a funding source may eventually get egged.