“We’re going at this upside down. We need to be more proactive. We need to get our local folks involved and our governor (John Hickenlooper) involved because it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, everyone cares about where they live.”
— Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, about legislation he is carrying that would give local governments more say in how public lands are managed
Craig Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, was in Denver on Thursday for a field hearing of the Congressional Western Caucus hosted at the state Capitol.
The theme of the hearing focused on forest health, wildfires and habitat protection, which provided Tipton an optimal venue to tout legislation he is carrying that would provide state and local elected officials the authority to designate high-risk wildfire areas.
House Resolution 818, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act, outlines a plan to proactively invest in and streamline hazardous fuels reduction projects.
Tipton cited last year’s devastating wildfire season that torched more than 9 million acres of land nationwide, destroyed thousands of homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages as his motivation for drafting the legislation.
In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service alone spent $1.77 billion in fire suppression operations, Tipton said, but only $296 million to reduce hazardous fuels.
“We’re going at this upside down,” Tipton said. “We need to be more proactive. We need to get our local folks involved and our governor (John Hickenlooper) involved because it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, everyone cares about where they live.”
In Colorado, Tipton cited a flurry of wildfires from Craig to Cortez that burned so hot they sterilized the lands. Seedless lands are not only bad for forage, they also can affect nutrient levels in Colorado’s rivers, ponds and reservoirs adversely.
As a result, “a wildfire can have immediate and long-lasting effects on mule deer populations, the fish in our streams and other wildlife regardless of their endangered species status,” Tipton said. “Those impacts affect every Coloradan. Every Westerner is a stakeholder in actively managing our forests.”
Under Tipton’s proposed legislation, local elected officials, such as county commissioners, could identify areas at risk for a wildfire near a variety of places, including watersheds, schools, transmission lines, private communities or areas vital to wildlife habitat.
Once identified, the county would work collaboratively with the governor and the appropriate federal management agency to develop a mitigation plan. All expenses for the project, if approved, would be paid by the federal government.
“Counties are already dealing with more than their share of unfunded mandates,” Tipton said. “This is not going to be one of them.”
The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act already has passed out of a Natural Resources Subcommittee with bipartisan support.
Tipton is cautiously optimistic his bill will be debated before the end of the month on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com