By MEAD GRUVER

Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A top U.S. Forest Service official says he might have to close off national forests in Wyoming and Colorado unless more work is done quickly to cut down beetle-killed trees near roads, trails and campsites.

Regional Forester Rick Cables told congressmen Tuesday he expects 100,000 trees a day to fall in the forests of Colorado and southern Wyoming over the next decade.

Trees are falling on roads and trails and are a safety concern, Cables told the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, which discussed the beetle epidemic during a field hearing in Cheyenne.

"We've had several near-misses already," he said.

A representative of a Colorado forest products company said it's ready to help.

But Gov. Dave Freudenthal was skeptical about the need to close forests -- a touchy proposition in a state where people love to hunt, hike, camp and fish and frequently second-guess the motives of federal land managers.

"I think that is a bit of an overreaction," Freudenthal said in a news conference later.

Committee member Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., hosted the field hearing, one of several planned as the committee looks ahead to the 2012 farm bill. Beetles were a topic because the U.S. Forest Service is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beetles have been killing pine forests across the West over the past decade. Late last year, the Forest Service allocated $40 million to clear some of the 3.6 million acres of beetle-killed forest in Colorado and Wyoming.

Beetles have been killing pine forests across the West over the past decade. Late last year, the Forest Service allocated $40 million to clear some of the 3.6 million acres of beetle-killed forest in Colorado and Wyoming.

All of the money already has been dedicated to projects to clear trees near roads and other infrastructure, Cables said, and more is needed. The forests have more than 3,000 miles of roads and a typical contract to clear trees along roads runs $40,000 a mile, he said.

That multiplies out to more than $100 million needed, Cables said.

"We really appreciate the $40 million," he said. "But the scale of this problem is very large."

The lumber industry is willing and able to use beetle-killed timber to produce timber products and biofuel, said Nancy Fishering, policy analyst for Montrose, Colo.-based Intermountain Resources, LLC.

But the beetle epidemic has coincided with low lumber prices and unwillingness by banks to lend for logging projects, Fishering told the committee.

"That's where we're stuck," she said.

Intermountain owns an operating sawmill in Montrose in western Colorado and a sawmill in Saratoga in southern Wyoming that the company hopes to reopen. Fishering called for another $57 million in federal funding to encourage more logging and create 6,600 jobs.

"They helped the auto industry. We could use help," she said.

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Associated Press writer Ben Neary contributed to this report.

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