Bennet’s bill seeks to treat damaged forests

Measure would force U.S. Forest Service to manage insect-damaged areas more intensely

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has introduced a bill that would tackle insect and disease epidemics on National Forest lands nationwide.

The National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act would instruct the U.S. Forest Service to treat National Forests that are infected by beetle damage or other diseases in areas where the risk of hazard trees pose an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety, according to Bennet’s office.

Colorado has more than 800,000 acres considered damaged by the beetle epidemic, according to Bennet’s office.

“A warming climate and a persistent drought are hurting our forests in Colorado, where so much of our state’s economy depends on the health and vitality of our lands and water,” Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement. “Last summer’s devastating wildfires showed us how important it is to let the Forest Service actively manage our impaired and overgrown forests without Washington tying their hands behind their back.”

The bill could affect the San Juan National Forest if the forest meets certain criteria that would require treatment, including substantial tree mortality caused by insect and disease infestation.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is a bill co-sponsor.

“As the largest pine beetle epidemic in recorded history continues to spread, it’s clear that we need to treat more acres of insect-ravaged forest more intensely and effectively,” Udall said in a statement.

Forest management is critical to wildfire prevention, Udall and Bennet said.

The U.S. Forest Service has not taken a position on the bill, an agency spokesman said and declined to comment.

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at sdazio@durangoherald.com.

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