The bark beetles that are devastating large areas of Colorado expanded their infestation by 400,000 acres last year, bringing the total number of affected acres in the state to 2 million. More information is at the Coloradoan.
The Colorado Independent created a kerfuffle when the newspaper ran an article on January 9 criticizing FEMA for not taking action in Colorado to mitigate the ongoing bark beetle problem and the threat of fires in the infested areas, saying in the article:
FEMA, for the most part, turned the same deaf ear to the problem that the margarita-quaffing (former FEMA Director) Brown offered Hurricane Katrina victims.Ouch!
The Colorado Independent's Ready, Fire, Aim article got the attention of FEMA. Today the newspaper published a rebuttal article written by Derek Jensen, an External Affairs Specialist for FEMA in their regional office in Denver. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Jensen's article:
We have forged close ties with various fire agencies, including West Metro Fire District and the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which coordinates resources to battle wildfires within the Rocky Moutain region. We certainly acknowledge we have areas and relationships where we have a role, and we are actively participating in the preparations and discussions about the catastrophic wildfire threat.A Thank-You Dinner for Firefighters
However, the article failed to recognize that under current law, forest health is not FEMA’s charge, nor would it be legal for the agency to reduce fuels on federal forest land. Well-intentioned individuals and organizations have approached FEMA in the past suggesting the agency eliminate the wildfire threat by simply declaring a federal disaster and removing the bark beetle infested lodgepole pines. This is not a legal option since FEMA has no statutory authority to address long-term, large scale forest management issues in undeveloped wilderness.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act does allow FEMA to focus on mitigation projects that directly affect the built environment and reduce the costs of all hazards. FEMA funding for such mitigation projects are typically provided on a nationally-competitive basis. Colorado Springs received such a grant in the past for a successful fuels reduction project along the city’s Wildland Urban Interface.
While we do not have the legal authority to remove the beetle kill fuel load in the National Forests, we have used a broad set of mitigation alternatives to prevent losses from wildfire and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal counterparts to prepare for this inevitable disaster. To suggest otherwise is simply ignoring the facts.
Community groups and businesses in the Boulder area are organizing a dinner Saturday night to honor the firefighters who worked on the January 7 Neva fire. The dinner is open to the public and anyone affected by the fire. Several businesses are donating kegs of beer, cases of wine, and platters of sushi. This is certainly a very nice gesture. I have not developed a taste for raw fish, but I have learned to appreciate beer and wine, and even more so when it's free.