National media notice state’s pesky pine-beetle problem

Colorado’s rice-sized mountain pine beetle got some plus-sized publicity this week in The New York Times, likely causing a collective cringe on the part of the state’s ski industry and tourism officials.

Generally, the marketing types probably want to avoid lines like this in the newspaper of record for Vail’s No. 1 domestic destination market: “At Vail Ski Resort, for example, which has been particularly hard hit, workers have removed thousands of dead trees and planted new ones.”

Actually, Vail hasn’t been as hard-hit by the epidemic as places like Winter Park and Summit County, where Vail Resorts also owns Keystone and Breckenridge. But it’s all a matter of differing degrees of devastation, with 500,000 acres of lodgepole pines dying every year and the beetle now moving toward the Front Range.

“Wildfire is the biggest threat,” continued the Old Gray Lady. “Some towns like Steamboat Springs and Vail, Colo., are surrounded by dead forests, and the Forest Service and logging companies are clear-cutting ‘defensible space’ so firefighters have a place to fight fires.”

True, and add into that mix the state, counties and ski companies, which have also been chipping in to try and cut down as many dead and dying trees as possible and avoid Hayman-esque fires that could level ski towns (and other mountain towns) and cause major erosion problems in and around mountain reservoirs that provide most of the drinking water for Denver and the Front Range.

That has the more populated parts of the state finally sitting up and staking notice, with Gov. Bill Ritter last week announcing he wants to more than double the amount of state funds being spent to cut down trees around towns and water sources. Increasing that amount from $2 million a year to $5.5 million would require the approval of the state Legislature because Ritter wants to pull the money from existing oil and gas severance tax funds.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s congressional delegation is working to increase Forest Service funding for projects across the West to $175 million to help deal with the problem.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.


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