Ritter, state forester say Colorado headed for ‘average’ wildfire season

Gov. Bill Ritter today, after a briefing with the state forester, said Colorado is headed for an average wildfire season thanks to a wet spring and near-normal winter for snowfall. But the governor warned the northwest part of the state could be an exception.

Forecasts call for hot, dry weather in northwest Colorado in July and August, and that factor – coupled with ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic – could make that part of the state a hotspot after a relatively quiet 2009 fire season statewide.

Ritter pointed to a $40 million injection of U.S. Forest Service funds to thin dead and dying forests in Colorado and throughout the beetle-ravaged Rocky Mountain region, but he added the state needs to do more to offset mitigation costs.

“We need to aggressively seek out economic opportunities that will reduce the cost of this work, such as converting some of our beetle-killed trees into biofuels and then into electricity,” Ritter said in release.

Vail officials are working to secure U.S. Department of Energy funding for a 28-megawatt biomass power plant that would generate heat and electricity by gasifying chipped-up, beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees.

Colorado State Forest Service Director Jeff Jahnke said people living in fire-prone areas like the foothills and the state’s Western Slope have an obligation to reduce fire risk around their homes by clearing brush and cutting down dead trees on their property.

Some scientists have questioned Ritter’s Colorado Roadless Rule as it relates to logging to reduce forest fire danger, saying the beetle epidemic doesn’t necessarily increase overall fire danger.

But there’s been a growing push to reduce fuel loads in close proximity to mountain towns and ski resorts in the worst-hit areas like Summit, Eagle, Routt and Grand counties.

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