Gov. John Hickenlooper, Mayor John Suthers and a host of other government, business and neighborhood leaders are in high gear to ensure we don't lose more than 8,000 acres of forest to an infestation of the Tussock moth and Western Spruce budworm. The bugs kill trees. If not exterminated in the coming spring, chunks of our mountain forests may die. This acreage directly faces our city and will be seen dead or alive by all who live here and visit.
If our plush green backdrop becomes an ugly brown wasteland, tourists will avoid us. Home and business values may drop. And, of course, dead trees greatly increase the likelihood of more deadly, costly forest fires.
Because of diligence by the governor and mayor, we could have a good chance of saving thousands of acres of trees. There is one big problem: The Obama administration's U.S. Forest Service. Federal forest officials seem to think tree-killing bugs have a right to life.
Forest-managing entities working cooperatively on a contract to exterminate the bugs include: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responsible for the 1,260-acre Cheyenne Mountain State Park; Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, responsible for 2,132 acres of city-owned forest; NORAD, which manages 400 acres; Broadmoor Bluffs Subdivision, with 291 acres; Broadmoor Resort, 146 acres; Broadmoor Expanse, 1,677 acres; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 81 acres, and El Pomar with 140 acres.
"The only party I know of that is not interested is the U.S. Forest Service," said Dan Prenzlow, southeast regional manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "They have 1,300 acres touching all the rest of us."
We contacted Erin Connelly, supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, to ask if her agency planned to spray.
"I don't believe we will," Connelly said.
Oscar Martinez, district manager for the Pikes Peak District of the U.S. Forest Service, said there is no chance the federal agency will join the eight other entities killing bugs. Even if federal officials could be convinced to change their minds, Martinez said, the federal government would require so much environmental assessment that nothing could be done in time to make a difference.
"If you bought a house up there with big trees, and you moved here for those big trees, I understand the concern," Martinez said. "But there is a natural cycle of forest disturbance that must be allowed to occur as part of responsible forestry management."
By letting nature run its course, Martinez said, dead and dying trees can "release the vegetation that was suppressed by the tree cover. If you look at butterflies, they are tied to flowering plants that are suppressed by trees."
Martinez said a naturally occurring bacteria detected by federal foresters stands to kill many of the bugs over the coming year, which should save a lot of trees. But Prenzlow said federal officials told state officials two years ago the bugs would begin dying naturally. They remain alive and well.
"We're going into our third year and the bugs have not died. The trees are struggling and dying, so we're going to spray," Prenzlow told The Gazette.
The moths and bugworms won't recognize jurisdictional boundaries. If the federal government won't treat the largest single portion of the infected region, tree-killing bugs are likely to migrate into neighboring properties. Sections of our plush green mountain backdrop will die. If that happens, we can thank a federal bureaucracy - the one charged with maintaining forests - for undermining a wide-scale community and statewide effort to save our forests. We can thank Connelly, Martinez and other federal officials for doing nothing to protect trees. Their inaction is a slap in the face of those who would keep the region's forests alive, beautiful and green.