McInnis: Wildfire risk high

Wilderness, agriculture concerns tackled at town hall meeting

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— Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said in a town hall meeting here Saturday that folks in Northwest Colorado should prepare for a dry summer with ample risk of forest fires.

"We haven't had dry of a summer since 1977," he said.

As chairman of a committee that oversees the national forests, McInnis said the government is preparing for a summer of forest fires because of the dry weather. In response to that prediction, McInnis said more experienced help has been hired and more equipment to fight fires has been bought.

"We think we are going to have a heck of a lot of problems," he said.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, McInnis said wildfire is an important issue in the Third District one he is taking seriously. He also commented on chronic wasting disease, which recently was discovered in deer in Rout County.

"We can't continue to quarantine and kill and quarantine and kill," McInnis said of the culling efforts being used to control and test for the disease.

McInnis spoke to a crowd of about 50 Saturday at Centennial Hall and fielded questions.

Bob Geer asked for McInnis' stance on the Right to Farm Bill, which gives subsidies to some agricultural operations.

"I hope it dies," McInnis said.

The bill is written in a way that McInnis said he believes will give money to agricultural operations in only six or seven states. Plus, most of the money will go to the larger, corporate farms.

"The average American thinks it's going to every Joe and Jane farmer out there; it's not," he said.

McInnis also said he supported Country of Origin legislation that would have produce labeled by what country it comes from. However, he said he doesn't support the Johnson Amendment, which offers millions of dollars in emergency farm subsidies. Both were issues Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger asked McInnis to address.

Jay Gallagher asked McInnis to speak about the nonmotorized issues being raised on public lands.

"Unfortunately, our area has been discovered," McInnis said.

In the past, use of private land was easy to come by, but today, with property being bought up by people from out of the area, it's difficult to gain access for recreation on private land.

"All of a sudden, the area we recreate is being squandered down," and more people are going to the public lands, McInnis said. In addition to that, technology has allowed people to go to places on public lands where they haven't gone before.

"We have a management problem. Some say we manage it by stopping (motorized use). I say our management has to be intense," he said.

McInnis doesn't support across-the-board restrictions on motorized vehicles on public land. Instead, he said he is sticking to the "multiple use" mantra that agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, look to.

"My feeling is let's sit down and work it out, area by area," he said.

Rick Fisher later asked McInnis to go further into the public-lands issue, asking him to comment on recent proposals for wilderness areas in Northwest Colorado.

McInnis said he didn't believe in the figures that showed 88 percent of people polled supported more wilderness areas. The poll was used to support the Citizen's Wilderness Proposal, which would ratify Dianna DeGette's (D-Colo.) 1999 plan that would make 1.6 million acres of federal land protected wilderness areas, much of it in Northwest Colorado.

McInnis said he couldn't get clear answers from the pollsters on what the people polled thought wilderness was. In a poll he issued, the numbers turned out lower in support of wilderness, while people in that poll confused wilderness with open spaces and park lands.

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