Gov. John Hickenlooper is urging the House Committee on Agriculture to support the forestry provisions of the U.S. House of Representatives' version of the Farm Bill. A committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
"Colorado and many other Western states have been experiencing a particularly devastating and tragic wildfire season," Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to the committee. "Many of the provisions in the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill under the forestry sections would be very helpful in addressing the forest conditions that lead to catastrophic wildfires, as would similar provisions in the Senate version. As a result, we strongly encourage that these proposals remain in the bill, survive any conference committee and are ultimately passed by the full Congress."
Specifically, the governor's letter highlighted the following federal policy proposals for Congressional action:
* Stewardship Contracting. "We strongly support extending the authorization of "stewardship contracting.' This contracting -- essentially allowing goods (trees and other woody biomass) for services (the removal of this forest material) -- provides the U.S. Forest Service with the flexibility it needs to make the trees in the Rocky Mountain region more economical to remove and convert to beneficial uses. In so doing, we can reduce the fuel loads in our forests that lead to intense wildfires."
* Good Neighbor Authority. "We strongly support the reauthorization and expansion of the "good neighbor' authority, which allows state foresters to perform needed fuels reduction treatment on federal forest lands adjacent to areas where similar treatments are occurring on non-federal lands. This authority helps reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire to communities and infrastructure and helps provide greater effectiveness for the forest treatment work done on non-federal land."
* Critical Areas. "We strongly support the concept of identifying "critical areas' on our national forests that are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire, and then applying streamlined review and implementation processes for thinning projects. These areas are in urgent need of expedited treatment to reduce fuel loads to help reduce the threat to communities from wildfires. Because our most urgent need is around communities, we suggest revising this concept to define "critical areas' as those exclusively within the wildland/urban interface. This would allow for a focus of scarce resources to the areas that are most critical -- near homes, communities, and water facilities."
* Strategic Planning. "We strongly support directing the U.S. Forest Service to perform some analysis on the condition of the national forest and the allocation of resources. We also suggest adding a provision that would require the Forest Service to provide Congress with an action or implementation plan on how it is addressing fire threats and suppression response. This should be focused on regional variability, and should pay particular attention to the states in the intermountain west. Given the pressing need for such a comprehensive strategic plan on fire risk reduction and suppression resource allocation, we suggest this plan be produced before the next fire season (or May 2013)."
"Thank you and your Committee members for your work on this and especially for these provisions on forestry that will go a long way toward helping the U.S. Forest Service work with states to address the threats associated with wildfire," the governor wrote. "We all value a healthy future forest condition, which these provisions can help us achieve."