Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Happy eco-warriors in Colorado gird for the species and wildnerness battles

rita_hibbardweb1Advocates of wilderness and endangered species in Colorado are drawing a deep breath and preparing to do battle once again. And they're happy they have the opportunity to do so.

The Denver Post reports that dozens of Colorado species, from the wolverine to the mountain plover to the white-tailed prairie dog are being re-evaluated for possible threatened or endangered status. In some cases, these are species that the Bush administration rejected for special protected status, and the courts have ordered a second look. But cost could be the limiting factor for the state. Bringing back the endangered lynx cost $3 million.

New species under consideration for protection have "aesthetic, ecological, education, historical, recreational and scientific value," and those facing extinction "could be indicators of bigger ecosystem problems that could hurt us," said Bridget Fahey, regional director of endangered species for the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service. "Science shows that when you start removing species from our ecosystem, things can start to break down."

 For eight species nationwide, "inappropriate political meddling" by a Bush administration appointee resulted in court rulings.

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Outdoor recreation mecca vs. uranium mine

Colorado as an outdoor recreation mecca? Colorado as the capital of the global uranium industry? Take your pick, but you can't have both, seems to be the sentiment in the Paradox Valley area near the Utah border. Montrose County commissioners there have delayed a decision on a controversial uranium mill proposal, but deep community divisions remain, writes David O. Williams in the Colorado Independent.

The mill - capable of producing enough fuel rods to power a city bigger than Denver - has run into opposition from people who live in Telluride and Ridgway, Williams writes, who argue that the mill would damage the region's reputation as an international outdoor tourism destination. But the fuel company, Energy Fuels Inc., says it's possible to avoid past mistakes and operate in a way that makes tourism and uranium mining and processing compatible. Many of those who live nearby are in favor of the jobs - including 282 mining jobs and 256 support jobs -  the mill would create, and bristle at the invasion of Coloradoans they view as outsiders.

One local, however, speaks for those against the mill.

Mark Goldfogel, owner of small farm in Paradox and a technology company in Telluride, urged the commissioners to reject the special-use permit allowing for industry in an area zoned agricultural. His argument was based purely on economics.

"If the mill is allowed, the stigma of a uranium mill in Paradox Valley will make agriculture and tourism extremely difficult," Goldfogel said. "There is no market for organic produce grown down the road from a uranium mill. There is no market for my farm if you allow this mill."

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Jobs? Not so much stimulus

Jobs in Colorado, not a pretty picture. Five months into the federal stimulus program jobs program, the state can link fewer than 1,000 new full-time positions to stimulus money. That's out of the 59,000 jobs the program is supposed to create or save in Colorado by the end of 2010, writes Greg Griffin in the Denver Post. So far, the biggest source of employment is a summer jobs program that has placed 2,946 kids, but because the jobs are temporary, they add up to fewer than 500 full-time-equivalent positions. Meanwhile,  the Post's Colorado Economy blog notes that Latino workers have a higher unemployment rate in Colorado and several other western states, and cites state labor experts pointing to large job losses in manufacturing and construction as the reason why.

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Colorado opposes mercury storage

Colorado joins Washington state in its concerns about health and safety worriesabout mercury storage. Gov. Bill Ritter has sent a letter to U.S. Energy Sec. Steven Chu saying he opposes storing the metal near Grand Junction, according to the Colorado Independent. Earlier this week, a Washington state official told Department of Energy official proposals to store mercury at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation could jeopardize cleanup efforts there. The federal government is facing a 2013 deadline to find a plan to store mercury waste in the U.S. to avoid unsafe dumping overseas.