MONTROSE, Colo. (AP) — Forest managers are asking for greater flexibility to deal with a bark beetle epidemic that has ravaged forests.

According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, witnesses told a congressional hearing on Monday that the epidemic poses a serious to local communities and firefighters.

They told the panel it can take up to a year and a half to get permission to take action and by that time, it is often too late.

An aerial survey last year showed about 4.6 million acres in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota have been affected since the first signs of the outbreak in 1996. That's up from about 4.3 million acres in 2010.