Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03) stressed the need for increased state and local involvement to help address the hazardous condition of forests on federal lands during a Western Caucus field hearing that took place today at the Colorado State Capitol. Tipton underscored that more proactive action was needed to save Colorado's forests from catastrophic wildfires like those that have ravaged the state over the past decade. Western Caucus co-chairs Reps. Steve Pearce (NM) and Cynthia Lummis (WY) joined with Tipton and Reps. Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn in holding today's field hearing to examine state solutions to forest health, wildfires and habitat protection.
"Forests are vital for the Western United States, providing limitless environmental and economic benefits when healthy. It's our responsibility to preserve this incredible natural resource and do all we can to restore forest health," said Tipton. "It's time that Congress, the Administration and citizens of the West take steps to prevent these tragedies. For too long we have been working to stop fires once they start, and mitigate damage once it has already been done. As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' That is what today's hearing was about, getting ahead of this problem by looking at the solutions that are working at the state level, and expanding upon these solutions so we can take a more proactive approach to restoring our forests to a healthy natural state."
Last year, the Forest Service spent $296 million on hazardous fuels treatment nationwide while spending $1.77 billion on wildfire suppression during the same time. In a hearing last month, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell confirmed that more needs to be done to proactively manage forests rather than continuing to have to spend exponentially greater resources on suppression and wildfire cleanup efforts once it's too late. In 2012, fires scorched over nine million acres of land nationwide, took more than a dozen lives, destroyed thousands of homes, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and destroyed important wildlife habitat.
Tipton has introduced legislation (H.R. 818) to encourage proactive management by streamlining hazardous fuels reduction projects and making up-front investments in forest health, in order to spend fewer taxpayer dollars fighting fires later on. Tipton's bill places no requirement on state and local officials to act but provides governors and county commissioners with the ability to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal lands.
At the hearing, Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs told the panel, "We appreciate that Congress has provided some assistance--primarily through the passage of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) in 2003. This law, which came as a response to major fires that occurred throughout the west in 2002 including the Hayman Fire in Colorado, which burned 138,000 acres, destroyed 133 homes, and resulted in $40 million in suppression costs, has helped expedite forest restoration efforts. However, there is much more that can be done. As can be seen from the Hayman Fire example--and many like it--the costs to suppress fires vastly outpaces the costs to treat forests to make them less prone to major fires. Although the Healthy Forest Restoration Act has been helpful in this regard, we need to expand upon it so that we can perform more treatment work and thus reduce the costs associated with suppression."
In addition to providing states with increased discretion over the management of lands within their borders, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act would allow treatment projects to move forward under the streamlined review processes set forth in HFRA. The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act protects all valid and existing rights on applicable lands and preserves the current protection framework for wilderness areas and national monuments.
The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818) is supported by numerous Colorado counties and the National Association of Counties, as well as state and national environmental organizations and conservation districts including:
The Custer, Pueblo, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, Hinsdale, Montrose, Moffat, Huerfano, Montezuma, Mesa, boards of county commissioners
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Forest Foundation
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Colorado Timber Association
National Association of Conservation Districts
National Association of Counties
National Association of State Foresters
National Cattlemen's Beef Association
National Wild Turkey Federation
Public Lands Council
Quality Deer Management Association
Safari Club International
Society for Range Management
Western Energy Alliance