WASHINGTON – Two Colorado county commissioners testified Thursday in favor of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act at a House subcommittee hearing.
The bill would increase state control over forest management on federal lands and allow governors to designate areas as “high risk” and take collaborative action with federal officials to prevent wildfires.
Tipton, R-Cortez, introduced the bill in the 112th Congress in July, but it died without coming to the House floor for a vote. Tipton reintroduced it in this Congress, the 113th.
On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation cleared the bill to make its way to the full House Natural Resources Committee for markup.
“This bill allows those who are most directly impacted by wildfire to take proactive measures to be able to address the problem and mitigate the root causes of catastrophic wildfire,” Tipton said at the hearing. “The status quo is no longer good enough. The status quo has given us decades of declining forest health. The status quo has given us years of increasingly catastrophic wildfires. The status quo puts people, communities and the ecosystems at risk.”
More than 9.3 million acres of land burned last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier and Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said they support Tipton’s bill because of its efforts to address drought, bark beetle infestation, forest overgrowth and wildfires.
“The summer of 2012 saw one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory. Hinsdale County had the largest wildfire in its known history, the Little Sand Fire, which burned nearly 25,000 acres in Archuleta and Hinsdale Counties,” Dozier said in her written testimony. “We therefore support proactive measures to address forest health and mitigate the dangers intense wildfires pose to human safety, property, infrastructure, wildlife habitat, and water and air quality.”
In his testimony, Martin wrote about the importance of collaboration between local, state and federal authorities to address high-risk areas in communities.
“Federal land managers know the highest risk areas around us,” he wrote. “This bill gives them another tool in working with local communities to address those risks.”
Boards of county commissioners in Pueblo, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, Hinsdale, Montrose, Moffat, Huerfano, Montezuma and Mesa counties have endorsed Tipton’s legislation, according to the congressman’s office.
Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at email@example.com.