Officials from Rocky Mountain states urged Congress yesterday to help them avert a potential catastrophe this summer, with millions of acres of beetle-ravaged pines prone to fire.
Local government officials and forestry specialists told the House Natural Resources Committee at a hearing that small towns, ski resorts, water supplies, and electricity transmission lines near dying forests are at risk for wildfires.
The inevitable looms on the horizon like a gathering storm, John Rich, a commissioner from Jackson County, Colo., said in prepared testimony. Shame on us if we do not . . . adequately prepare.
Rich quoted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator, as describing the mountain pine beetle infestation as the Katrina of the West.
The pine beetle problem, which hit Colorado in 1996, has spread to more than 2 million acres in the state. US Forest Service officials have predicted that by 2014, beetles will kill most of the states lodgepole pines, the predominant pine at high elevations.
Other severely affected states include Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. In Canada, more than 22 million acres have been affected and scientists suspect that the death of so many trees is altering local weather and air quality.
Two Colorado lawmakers also want the federal government to help create a market for products made from the dead trees.