Report: Backcountry logging won’t slow beetles, ease fire danger

A new report (pdf) claims the controversial Colorado Roadless Rule is misguided in its bid to allow logging up to 1.5 miles into the state’s national forests in order to ease wildfire danger from the ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic.

Produced by the nonprofit National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, based in Ashland, Ore., the report indicates thinning deep into beetle-killed forests doesn’t reduce fire danger and can actually make the situation worse by introducing roads into former roadless areas.

A release from the group Tuesday named several professors who helped author the study, including Colorado State’s Barry Noon, all of whom felt climate change and ongoing drought conditions in the West are overriding factors that make wildfire likely regardless of expensive backcountry thinning efforts that won’t do much to slow the epidemic anyway.

The report, entitled “Insects and Roadless Forests: A Scientific Review of Causes, Consequences and Management Alternatives,” concludes limited resources should be focused on creating defensible spaces around mountain communities surrounded by more than 2 million acres of dead and dying lodgepole pines in Colorado and Wyoming.

“The science is clear. Unless preventive measures are aimed at creating defensible space around homes, the federal government will be shoveling taxpayer money down a black hole,” Dominick DellaSala, a report author and president and chief scientist for the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, said in the release. “Logging in the backcountry will do little to prevent insect infestations or reduce fire risks, and it will not solve Colorado’s concerns over dying trees.”

Several years ago Colorado headed down its own path for managing its 4.4 million acres of roadless national forests. Colorado joined Idaho as the only two states to take advantage of a Bush administration petition process after it scrapped the 2001 Clinton Roadless Rule that blocked road building on more than 58 million acres of national forest around the country.

After years of public hearings, thousands of public comments, open houses and fierce debate, Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration forged ahead with a plan it says will allow more flexibility for unique Colorado circumstances such as the beetle-kill epidemic, coal mining and future ski-area expansion. And state officials say it actually protects more acreage than the Clinton Roadless Rule.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in Colorado last fall that he appreciates Colorado’s “unique situation,” but he stopped short of indicating the federal government would allow the Colorado Roadless Rule to go through.

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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