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Choose Outdoors Statement for White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors Choose Outdoors takes Action Pine Beetle Epidemic: A Call for Action on behalf of All Americans Who Love Our Nation’s Forests
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Choose Outdoors Statement for White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors
Pine Beetle Epidemic: A Call for Action on behalf of All Americans Who Love Our Nation’s Forests
It’s hard to imagine that the executioner of America’s forests, the agent of climate change’s destruction, would come in a creature smaller than a pencil eraser. But the lowly bark beetle is doing more to destroy America’s forests and forest-based economies than any act of man, and only with swift, aggressive action will we save our natural spaces and forest economies.
The current beetle-kill epidemic started in 1995. Throughout Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and South Dakotaâ€”it’s impossible not to see the damage: Millions of acres of brown, dead trees spread across entire landscapes. The devastation now covers 2 million acres of Coloradoâ€”an area as large as Yellowstone National Park. Enormous swaths of forest have already succumbed to the plague, and it’s accelerating at an exponential rate.
Warmer weather and drought brought on by climate change has allowed the beetles to proliferate in unnatural, and unprecedented, numbers. Here’s how they kill: The beetles bore their way into trees and infect them with an aggressive fungus, leaving the timber brown and dead in their wakeâ€”and the fungal stains make them useless to the timber industry. During wet years, the beetles are killed by a tree’s running sap; during colder climates, they freeze to death. But given the high temperatures and long droughts brought on by climate change, the beetles are literally taking over our national and private forests.
It’s not just ecology that’s under threatâ€”it’s also the economy. Recreation in our national forests is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Healthy forests attract millions of Americans to the nearby communities for tourism, and according to the USDA Forest Service sixty percent of the gross domestic product derived from our national forests is from recreation and tourism, in large part due to the attraction of images of pristine mountain forest. The outdoor hunting, sports and recreation industriesâ€”based in large part in and around national forestsâ€”generate nearly a trillion dollars each year. If we lose our forests, we lose our forest-based economies, which are often the major source of income for these rural areas.
The devastation has already affected 16 ski areas and 932 recreation sites. A large number of deadfall trees blocks the roads after wind storms, cutting off 3,700 miles of forest roads, 898 miles of trails, and knocking down sections on the 550 miles of powerlines in beetle-affected areas. In many affected zones, 50-90 percent of the trees have diedâ€”mostly the largest, oldest, and most fire-prone trees.
The impacts have already been devastating, and the infestation is accelerating faster every year. What once were flourishing forests with vibrant ecosystems are now vast, dead groves of unsightly, beetle-ravaged timber, waiting to burn. Recreation in these areas has dropped off significantly. Endangered species are losing habitat. Communities near the dead forests are in extreme danger from wildfires. And any resulting erosion into streams and reservoirs would place tremendous financial burdens on local governments. Unless something can be done to stop or slow the spread of the pine beetles, the future of America’s western forests is at stake.
Short of reversing climate change, there is no solution except to keep forests healthy. Well-managed forestsâ€”forests that are aggressively thinned by controlled firesâ€”are highly resistant to bark beetle infestations. Barriers to controlled burns need to be removed. The budgets for healthy-forest management need to be increased or included in stimulus funding. Forests that can’t be controlled by burning because of their proximity to communities must be sustainably thinned by hand, and markets for the blue-stained wood must be encouraged to create incentives for clearing beetle-infested timber.
In a time when it seems hard to find consensus on a single issue, every American can agree on this one: healthy, thriving forests benefit everyoneâ€”from recreationists to our local and natural communities. It is time for all Americans, no matter where they live, to join forces to address this overarching issue.
Submitted by Bruce Ward, President and CEO
President and CEO
PO Box 801
Pine, CO 80470
Cell: 303 917 1476