Fighting the pine beetle will help in the next fight against forest fires

The pine trees that populate our national forests – particularly in the Mountain West – are in continued need of protection. Critical to the ecosystem, their decline would be felt in a number of areas, starting with the very real threat to safe and secure drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service and state and local partners are series about the preservation of pine trees. Some of their strategies were the focus of a Washington Post article last month.

We know how important this work is for the long-term. What we are seeing this week is how much these steps can save lives and property in the short-term as well.

The pine beetle is arguably “enemy no. 1″ of pines trees. For years, the pest has been quick and resilient, and forest professionals have struggled to keep up. As firefighters in Colorado continue to tackle what has become one of the largest forest fires in state history, the Associated Press reports that beetle-stricken trees – many of them dead or dying – have become an increasing safety concern. The challenge was particularly apparent in the foothills about 15 miles from Fort Collins:

Fire managers said the blaze’s west side was a concern because 70 percent of the trees had been killed by pine beetles, leaving drying wooden poles with branches and red pine needles that pose a hazard for firefighters.

The pine beetle is a pest that must be contained, for our own safety and security. Through comprehensive forest management, that looks possible. An honest discussion about the role of climate change – warmer winters make it easier for the pine beetle to survive and breed – will also be critical.

Pine beetle devastation in Wyoming. Courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

The issue is starting to receive more attention in Washington, DC, where Colorado Senator Mark Udall (nephew of Arbor Day Award winner and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall) has been leading the charge for additional resources to fight the pine beetle. His effort is attracting bipartisan support, including from South Dakota Senator John Thune.

The Associated Press has more information on the latest developments in Colorado.

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