Thursday, January 30, 2003
Steamboat Springs Congressman Scott McInnis doesn't want a fiery sequel to last summer.
The Republican from Grand Junction said Thursday he planned to introduce legislation that would alleviate the risk of wildland fire to Western communities, watersheds and wildlife habitat.
About 36,000 acres burned last summer in primarily wilderness areas in the Routt National Forest.
McInnis, chairman of the House Resources' Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, proposed a plan last session that would have removed some hurdles to thinning unhealthy forests.
His plan, which strongly resembled President Bush's Healthy Forest Initiative, called for speeding up the process for timber removal.
The House Resources Committee approved the legislation last October, but the House and the Senate failed to act on the measure, or any other measure to reduce the threat of wildland fire, before the close of the session.
"Despite extraordinary efforts to reach common ground on this issue and the forging of bipartisan legislation last session, Congress still missed an opportunity to address this threat," McInnis said.
Several Democratic lawmakers with close ties to the environmental community, including Rep. George Miller of California and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, backed his failed plan.
McInnis hopes to enlist similar bipartisan support for his new legislation. Information about his new plan is not yet available.
Last year's fire season is a wakeup call to people who continue to avoid tackling unhealthy forests, McInnis said.
"The next season is right around the corner," he said. "We cannot afford more delays in attacking this threat. With science, not emotion, guiding us, we can find a sensible cure for a growing plague in the West."
Congress approved a $1.8 billion National Fire Plan in 2000 to address the dangerous accumulation of trees and brush on public lands.
The Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest received $400,000 to devise a plan that would safely reduce the threat of severe wildfires around Steamboat Springs.
The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project evolved from public input and a lengthy environmental assessment of fire-prone areas. The plan encompasses land on the north side of the Steamboat Ski Area, down to Buffalo Pass and westward to Elk River Road all the way to Copper Ridge, as well as Morrison Creek near Stagecoach.
Local U.S. Forest Service officials are eager to begin implementing the project but lack the financial wherewithal. The Forest Service has neither the manpower nor the funds to undertake forest-wide fuel reduction, supervisory forester Andy Cadenhead said last fall.
Forest Service District Ranger Kim Vogel said earlier forest health suffers locally not so much from delayed thinning projects but from a lack of funding to implement those projects.
McInnis' plan last session called for thinning projects on more than 40 million acres that bordered communities, watersheds and other high-value areas.
The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project applies only to a small percentage of the 1.2 million-acre Routt National Forest.