Forest Act goes before Senate

The Senate began consideration of Congressman Scott McInnis', R-Grand Junction, "Healthy Forests Restoration" Act on June 26 with a legislative hearing by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestr

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— The Senate began consideration of Congressman Scott McInnis', R-Grand Junction, "Healthy Forests Restoration" Act on June 26 with a legislative hearing by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The goal of the bipartisan legislation is to help control wildfires and to address growing occurrences of fast-spreading insect and disease outbreaks threatening forest health across the United States.

The bill passed the House in May by a vote of 256 -- 170, but a date has not yet been determined when the Senate will vote on the bill, Mcinnis' Press Secretary Blair Jones said.

"Today's hearing was definitely a step in the right direction in addressing the growing wildfire threat to our nation's communities and forests, and I commend my colleagues in the Senate for taking up this measure," McInnis said in a statement. He is the chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

"But I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward, as any further legislative delay will not only leave us powerless to address hazardous conditions this fire season, but it will also prevent land managers from beginning to meaningfully address hazardous fuels conditions before the next."

In the opening statements of the legislation, several senators, university professors, businessmen and city-government officials from across the country addressed reasons why they thought the bill was important.

Some, however, cited flaws in the bill.

"After last year's fire season, many members of Congress made a diligent effort to come up with the solutions to this complex problem," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said during the opening statements of the hearing. "Despite their commitment, the debate ended in an impasse and now wildfires are once again destroying lives and property, and other irreplaceable resources. We have not taken the measures necessary to protect communities and our public forest lands from fires that now rage out of control."

McCain also addressed some disagreements of some provisions of the bill, which have been locally addressed by the Colorado Environmental Coalition. The CEC asked the Hayden Town Board on June 19 to consider endorsing the CEC's view that the bill does not adequately protect communities at risk of wildfire damage because it only protects federal land -- 15 percent of the wildland-urban interface area.

The other 85 percent is private, state- or tribally-owned property, which is no less in threat of being damaged by wildfires.

After some deliberation, the Town Board voted 3-1 to endorse the CEC's views.

These urban-interface areas are what need to be protected, said Jennifer Seidenberg, northwest field organizer for the CEC.

Seidenberg also wanted to clarify that the CEC was not requesting the Town Board oppose the act but rather draft a formal letter endorsing the coalition's viewpoints to improve the bill to include nonfederal lands in its protection.

Even though McCain cited flaws in the bill, he still said, "Congress must pass legislation that will provide essential protection to communities and public forest lands from wildfires that we know will occur in the future."

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