Two miles deep in their latest tunnel, coal miner Steve Baker and his cohorts barely blink at underground hazards: a cavern collapsing behind them, explosive gas around their boots, roiling clouds of black dust. But they dread the above-ground parrying of state and federal politicians over protection of the nation’s forests. Decisions expected soon by Gov. Bill Ritter and the Obama administration may threaten the miners’ livelihoods — and the future of a traditional industry in western Colorado.
The mountain pine beetles that have ravaged about 3 million acres of Colorado and southern Wyoming forests may be exhausting their primary food source — raising the prospect that the beetle epidemic could end, state and federal foresters said this week. Regeneration of decimated forests has begun as the U.S. Forest Service hires loggers to remove dead trees. “I think we’ve seen the worst of it,” said Sky Stephens, Colorado State Forest Service entomologist.