EAGLE COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service will spend less fighting wildfires and more preventing them, if a new bill becomes law.
Rep. Scott Tipton’s Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Tipton co-sponsored the bill, along with Rep. Doc Hastings, of Washington state. They’re both Republicans. Tipton represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Western Eagle County and the Western Slope.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
“It is far more efficient and cost effective to proactively manage our forests,” Tipton said.
In 2012, the Forest Service spent $1.77 billion fighting wildfires and $296 million removing the fuels that make Western Colorado so vulnerable, Tipton said.
From 2000-12, more than 90 million acres burned in the U.S., nearly as many as the previous three decades combined, he said.
“We’ve seen a decrease in timber harvesting of 80 percent over the past three decades,” Tipton said. “It’s no coincidence that during this time the severity of fires and number of acres burned has increased steadily.”
The bill requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable annual yield of timber required under law since 1908 and to share 25 percent of those receipts with rural counties.
“Poor forest condition is one of the primary factors that have led to destructive wildfires and catastrophic insect and disease outbreaks,” said Joe Duda, Colorado deputy state forester. “The response has been to deal with the impacts, unwanted wildland fire, rather than improve the health of our forests through thinning and other management activities.”
Since 1990, the amount of biomass being removed in the form of forest products has fallen by half, Duda said.
Tipton said that in addition to destroying lives and property, wildfires cause significant damage to the environment, including air quality, habitats and watershed.
Tipton even tied it to carbon emissions. According to NASA, carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires have increased 240 percent across the West since the 1980s.
“Wildfire can often emit more carbon in a few weeks than all of the cars in that state do in a year,” Tipton said.
The bill asks for no additional money and enables governors and county commissioners to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal land.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.