COLUMN: A Focus on Forest Management and Water Rights
Recent hearings in the House Natural Resources Committee have focused on healthy forest management and the protection of privately-held water rights – two issues that are critical in Colorado.
During an oversight hearing in the Subcommittee on Federal Lands, I had the opportunity to discuss solutions for effective forest management and wildfire prevention with our panel of witnesses. It is far more efficient and cost effective to proactively manage our forests; but unfortunately, federal efforts to responsibly manage forests and prevent the conditions that lead to catastrophic wildfires have been hampered by an unwieldy regulatory framework.
I believe that empowering states to work collaboratively with the federal government to make forest management decisions in high-risk areas on National Forest Service Lands and lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management will help restore forests to healthy conditions. In previous sessions of Congress, I have introduced the Healthy Forests Management Act, which is a bill that would allow state governors, in consultation with county governments from affected counties and affected Indian tribes, to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects for those areas. Additionally, the bill would allow forest treatment projects to move forward under a streamlined review process.
Language from the Healthy Forests Management Act passed the House of Representatives as part of the Resilient Federal Forests Act in the 114th Congress, and I am confident that we will be able to get this bipartisan effort across the finish line in the 115th Congress.
I also had the opportunity to participate in a hearing in the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, where a draft of my bill to protect privately-held water and property rights was up for discussion.
In recent decades, directives from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have attempted to require the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. There is no compensation for the transfer of these privately-held rights, despite the fact that many stakeholders have invested millions of dollars of their own capital in developing them.
These federal attempts to manipulate the federal permit, lease, and land management processes to circumvent long-established state water law and hijack privately-held rights have sounded the alarm for all non-federal water users that rely on these water rights for their livelihood. The Water Rights Protection Act would provide certainty by upholding longstanding federal deference to state water law.
I appreciated the discussion on the Water Rights Protection Act, and I know that many of my colleagues are committed to ensuring Western water users have the certainty they need to prosper and thrive in the arid West. I look forward to finalizing and introducing this bill in the 115th Congress.
Too often, issues like forest management and water rights don’t make it into the news, but they have profound impacts on Coloradans. I remain committed to ensuring voices from the West are heard in the policy discussions happening in Washington.