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County commission sends letter of support for Healthy Forest Management Act

In a special meeting Thursday morning, July 19, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved sending a letter of support for H.R. 6089, the “Healthy Forest Management Act 2012”

That bill is a Congressional bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) that would identify areas of concern within public lands and allow for fuels mitigation in those areas.

The commissioners were originally slated to consider the letter at their regular meeting on July 17, but the item was found to be improperly noticed and was pulled from the agenda during the meeting.

With a desire to have the letter arrive in time for a subcommittee hearing, the board scheduled a special meeting for Thursday morning to consider the letter.

The letter provided comments for the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands to consider during the subcommittee hearing on the matter that took place Friday, July 20.

The subcommittee passed the bill that day, a week after it was introduced and more than a year after work on the bill began, according to a press release from Tipton’s office.

The BoCC letter of support states, “The State of Colorado and much of the western United States has been hit with severe drought conditions this past year. This, coupled with areas of extensive insect infestation and thick stands of forest overgrowth, has created an environment ripe for intense wild fire. In fact, this summer has already seen one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory. We therefore support proactive measures to address forest health and mitigate the dangers unnaturally-intense wild fires pose to human safety, property, infrastructure, wildlife habitat, and water quality. HR 6089 contains provisions that we belief (sic) take much needed steps to address this issue.”

The letter continues, stating that the bill, “openly identifies the issue at hand, and of great importance, vests actual authority to identify high risk areas and initiate mitigation measures to those most able to recognize the risk and with the most at stake should a wild fire erupt, that is, the respective states in coordination with county governments.”

The letter later re-emphasizes the, “importance of arming our states and counties with the ability to address wild fire threats right in our back yards.”

The letter also supports the cooperation of the bill in carrying out mitigation and restoration activities and the expediting procedures included in the bill.

“I’m very happy to take any action we can to get fuels out of our forests,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said of sending the letter of support.

“The devastating bark beetle infestation, prolonged drought conditions, warm temperatures, and unnaturally dense forests have combined to create prime conditions in our forests for the type of catastrophic wildfires we have seen in Colorado this year and in recent decades. This is a Western emergency,” Tipton said in a press release Friday.

The bill, in short, would give states the authority to identify areas affected by bark beetle epidemic, drought, deteriorating forest health conditions and areas that are at high risk of wildfires, then put in place emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects to address those issues identified.

According to the summary accompanying the bill, the bill would:

• Declare the bark beetle epidemic, drought and deteriorating forest health conditions on national forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands as an imminent threat with the risk of devastating wildfires.

• Give governors the authority to designate areas of high risk within the national forest system and lands under the BLM.

• Require that governors consult with the county commissioners from affected counties and affected tribes in designating high-risk areas.

• Allow the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to work in consultation with governors, county commissioners and affected tribes to designate high-risk areas, and allows the secretaries to, “provide for the development of proposed emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects for high-risk areas in consultation with the states.”

• Give states, “the authority to provide for the development of proposed emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects for high-risk areas.”

• Require consistency with any applicable land and resource management plans, or with land use plans.

• “Permanently authorizes the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to enter into cooperative agreements with state foresters to authorize the state forester to provide forest, rangeland, and watershed protection services on applicable federal land (Good Neighbor Authority).”

• Allow for the extension of stewardship contracting to 20 years.

• Provide expedited approval procedures for projects carried out in response to hazardous fuels in, “close proximity to utility or telephone infrastructure, campgrounds, roadsides, heritage sites, recreation areas, schools and other infrastructure.”

As of Friday, the Healthy Forest Management Act had been endorsed by The Colorado Timber Association, CLUB 20, Colorado Association of Conservation Districts, commissioners from Routt, Montrose, Gunnison, Archuleta, Moffat, Dolores, Hinsdale and Larimer counties, The Boone and Crockett Club, National Association of Conservation Districts, Farm Bureau, Federal Forest Resource Coalition, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Association of Counties, National Association of Forest Service Retirees, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Public Lands Council, Safari Club International, Society for Range Management and the National Forest County and Schools Coalition.

randi@pagosasun.com

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