Udall, McInnis clash over forest bill
Some Colorado residents and conservation groups are concerned that the latest "Healty Forests" legislation promoted in Congress will divert limited resources away from the protection of homes and communities and toward logging in remote backcountry areas, including roadless areas and important wildlife habitat.Touted as a forest restoration measure, the bill is co-authored by Colorado Republican Scott McInnis. The Republican majority in the House Resources Committee passed the measure Wednesday, April 30, but it could face stiff opposition in the House and in the Senate from a coalition of Democrats and moderate Eastern Republicans.Congressman Mark Udall, the Boulder Democrat who represents Eagle County in the House, says he voted against the bill because it does not adequately focus on reducing the danger of catastrophic wildfire to communities and their water supplies. According to Udall, it adds new controversies that will result in more lawsuits, and it unnecessarily guts important environmental laws.Udall, who favors fuel reduction and thinning projects on forest lands, voted in favor of a compromise measure last year, but says this year’s Republican version is seriously flawed. He has introduced an alternative measure that doesn’t dilute environmental protection and targets fire hazards in the Red Zone more directly."We must speed up efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and water supplies. That’s why I introduced a bill to expedite thinning projects in these areas. It’s also why I voted for the McInnis bill last year. But the bill the committee approved today is not the same bill I supported last year. It’s filled with controversy, not consensus. It’s a recipe for lawsuits and will further delay our attempts to reduce the danger of wildfire on our national forests," Udall says.With federal and state budgets already stretched to near breaking, funding and manpower for wildfire mitigation projects must be focused where they will do the most good, says Colorado Wild’s Jeff Berman. That means providing support for community-based efforts to create defensible space around homes by thinning and removing fuels in the areas most at risk, and by committing resources to commercial logging projects.Congress tackled the issue last session, but attempts to craft a bipartisan consensus disintegrated. Conservation groups like Colorado Wild and the Sierra Club say the effort stalled when the focus of the debate shifted away from community safety and toward weakening the environmental and public participation laws that govern decision-making for federal lands."It’s too broad," Colorado Wild activist Rocky Smith said of McInnis bill., A veteran Forest Service watchdog who has scrutinized countless agency proposals and documents, Smith says the Forest Service could authorize nearly any logging project under the measure, no matter how far from a town.
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