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Tipton, CO Deputy Forester Urge Proactive Forest Management to Prevent Wildfire
Tipton stresses significant environmental impact of wildfires
WASHINGTON–Today, Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03) stressed the need for proactive forest management to prevent catastrophic wildfires, like the 110,000 plus acre West Fork Complex Fire currently burning in the 3rd District. During the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation oversight hearing on Wildfire and Forest Management, Tipton stressed that in addition to tragically taking lives and destroying property, wildfires cause significant damage to the environment including air quality, habitats and watersheds. Tipton also underscored the benefits of forest management to rural schools and economies through increased timber contracts.
“If the President is truly interested in reducing carbon emissions, without handcuffing our nation’s economy, his administration should take meaningful action to prevent the catastrophic wildfires that are burning in Colorado, Arizona and other parts of the West. According to a 2012 presentation from NASA, carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires have more than doubled (up 2.4 times) since the 1980's. The amount of carbon emissions from wildfires has grown from an average of 8.8 million tons per year from 1984 to 1995 to more than 22 million tons from 1996 to 2008,” Tipton said in his opening statement. “Wildfire can often emit more carbon in a few weeks than all of the cars in that state do in a year. This was the case with the Hayman Fire in Colorado, and will likely be the case with the West Fork Complex Fire.”
In addition, according to a 2007 study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), wildfires can be primary contributors to individual states total carbon emissions. In Idaho in 2006 wildfire produced 1.6 times more CO2 than all other fossil fuel sources. In 2006 wildfire emissions also accounted for 47 and 42 percent of CO2 emissions in Montana and Washington respectively. And according to a report from researchers with the Forest Service, Auburn University and George Mason University, wildfire CO2 emissions are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2050.
“If we proactively manage our forests we can remove dead trees and re-forest areas with healthy trees that will once again absorb carbon, restore our environment to a healthy state, and protect people and communities from catastrophic wildfire,” Tipton said.
Colorado Deputy State Forester Joe Duda testified during the hearing, joining Tipton in speaking on the need for more proactive management to restore forests to healthy conditions and reduce the severity of wildfire.
“Poor forest condition is one of the primary factors that have led to destructive wildfires and catastrophic insect and disease outbreaks. The response has been to deal with the impacts (i.e. unwanted wildland fire), rather than improve the health of our forests through thinning and other management activities. For example, this year, we will remove less than one-half of the biomass in the form of forest products than we did in 1990,” said Duda in his testimony. “Without adequate resources and an efficient process for thinning our forests to achieve age class and species diversity, the U.S. Forest Service, and Coloradans, will continue to lose ground in our collective attempts to address the mountain of dead timber and declining forest health. In simple terms, we are managing the disturbance, rather than addressing the entire system, which is the only real solution to our current situation.”
Wildfires burned 9.3 million acres in 2012, while the U.S. Forest Service only harvested approximately 200,000 acres of timber. The cost of proactive healthy forest management is far less than the cost of wildfire suppression and cleaning up the aftermath. According to the Forest Service, the agency spent $296 million on hazardous fuels treatment nationwide in FY2012 while spending $1.77 billion on wildfire suppression during the same time.
Tipton’s bill, H.R. 818, would streamline hazardous fuels reduction projects and make up-front investments in forest health, so that we can spend fewer taxpayer dollars fighting fires later on. Tipton’s bill directs no additional spending and places no requirement on state and local officials to act, providing Governors and County Commissioners with the ability to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal lands.
“We also must take a comprehensive look at all opportunities and authorities necessary to reduce U.S. Forest Service costs, including the use of existing authorities such as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which should be aggressively implemented,” Duda said in his testimony. “More effective management of Colorado’s forested lands will set a course for more resilient future forests that provide the benefits and outcomes we expect.”
In addition to providing states with increased discretion over the management of lands within their borders, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818) would allow treatment projects to move forward under the streamlined review processes set forth in HFRA. The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act protects all valid and existing rights on applicable lands and preserves the current protection framework for wilderness areas and national monuments.
During the hearing, Tipton pressed Jim Hubbard, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry of the USFS, on the Agency’s inability to manage current lands and yet still request $60 million this year to acquire more land. When asked by Tipton if it would be sensible to use those resources to treat existing lands instead of acquiring more land, Hubbard answered “Yes it would be sensible, and we would welcome the dialogue.”
“This legislation and today’s hearing is about getting ahead of this problem by investing greater resources toward prevention so we can take a more proactive approach to restoring our forests to a healthy natural state and preventing the intense fires that have caused so much damage throughout the West,” Tipton said.
The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818) is supported by numerous Colorado counties, the National Association of Counties, as well as state and national environmental organizations and conservation districts. A list of endorsements is available here.
Additional background on the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act is available here.
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