WASHINGTON Its not a check from Uncle Sam, but it is something.
After months of fighting for policy and funding to address Colorados bark beetle epidemic, a bill authored by Sen. Mark Udall crawled one step closer to being passed.
The National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee by a unanimous voice vote, a key hurdle on the way to reaching the full Senate floor. But as the Senate leaves for its monthlong August recess, the bill now must wait indefinitely to be bundled with dozens of other bills before action can be taken.
The legislation designates areas of 12 states including Colorado as insect and disease emergency areas. It streamlines the bureaucratic process by which the U.S. Forest Service can treat forest affected by bark beetles. The legislation also refocuses resources and makes treating wildfires and falling trees a priority especially near roads, power lines and tourist areas.
Hours after the bill passed committee, Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. Bill Ritter and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had a discussion about the epidemic. Udall said in a teleconference with reporters that the first step is getting Vilsack to visit Colorado to see the damage the bark beetles have caused.
Those trees in the forest, there may not be people to hear them fall, but theyre going to hear them back here in Washington, D.C., Udall said. Thats why I want to get the secretary out on the ground to see this because when you see it you cant ignore it anymore.
Udall said in a statement that he hopes he can push for a vote on the measure by the end of the year.
A Forest Service spokesman declined to comment on the pending legislation.
Over the last year Udall, along with several other senators from Western states, has pushed for more funding to fight the bark beetle epidemic and the problems associated with it. Earlier this summer, an amendment he co-authored failed to make the final version of a funding bill.
Were really coming out at ground zero for a slow-moving natural disaster, a Katrina-like event, Udall said. But its moving slowly, so it doesnt always hit you in the face immediately. Although if you go to Summit County or Jackson County, its more than obvious whats happening.
Over the last decade, bark beetles have killed more than 2 million acres of trees in Colorado. The dead trees are especially susceptible to forest fires and tip over easily, blocking trails and roads and causing a hazard for power lines.
Tamar Hallerman is an American University student and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.