Sen. Mark Udall: Farm Bill as a wildfire tool

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U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

Wildfires are an unfortunate fact of life in Colorado. But we are entering the age of super-fires, where factors such as drought, climate change and fire suppression combine to build fires that are larger and more frequent as well as more difficult and expensive to combat.

We already have seen that this year, with the High Park Fire quickly growing from a lightning strike to one of the three largest blazes in Colorado history. Within two weeks of one another, the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires broke the record for the most costly fires in terms of homes lost. I have been monitoring these and the other fires burning in Colorado actively to ensure firefighters on the ground have all the federal resources they need.

However, confronting wildfires involves more than fighting the blazes while they are burning. In the 10 years since the Hayman Fire of 2002 — Colorado’s largest wildfire — Coloradans have seen firsthand that the devastation from a wildfire does not end when the last ember is extinguished.

One of the biggest legacies of the Hayman Fire has been its long-term impact on the water supply for Denver and Aurora. Destructive wildfires lay waste to vegetation and allow ash, debris and sediment to flow directly into reservoirs during the next rainfall. Severe fires also tend to sterilize the soil, making it difficult for forests to come back. This lack of new vegetation increases soil erosion and creates areas prone to severe flooding.

Responsible and proactive forest management is critical to confronting the long-term effects of large blazes and the ramifications they have in the long haul on Colorado’s precious water supplies. The cost of forest restoration is nothing compared to the price tag for fighting wildfires, restoring lost homes and businesses and cleaning and maintaining water-storage facilities after each fire. If forests are the lungs of our land, as President Franklin Roosevelt said, then think of the Farm Bill as preventive care to avoid an emergency room visit.

That is why I have worked hard to make the 2012 Farm Bill, which my colleagues and I passed in the U.S. Senate last month, an important tool in managing our forests. Forests protect 70 percent of Colorado’s drinking water — and much of the water that we send downstream to other states in the West. Our high-mountain storage also protects other downstream users in Colorado, including our farmers and ranchers who depend on a reliable and high-quality water supply to produce our food and fiber.

The bipartisan bill contains not just policies that support agriculture and nutrition programs but also proactive measures I supported to help prevent catastrophic wildfire, by giving the U.S. Forest Service flexibility and funding to treat areas decimated by bark beetles and renewing stewardship contracts to encourage private-public sector partnerships to keep forests healthy. It also includes common-sense conservation programs that help agencies like the Natural Resources Conservation Service at the Department of Agriculture to help mitigate the impact of wildfires on our water supply.

The fact that wildfires are expected to become more common and the severe effect they can have on our water supply underscore just how important forest health is to all of Colorado, not just those living in the wildland-urban interface. The smartest thing we can do to protect our public resources is to be proactive about managing our forests and spend taxpayer money in wise ways.

The agencies on the front lines need support and funding to better manage forests and reduce the likelihood, severity and long-term effect of wildfires. That is why I successfully fought to include a bipartisan amendment that strengthens our response to the bark beetle epidemic. We can relieve the immediate risk to human health and safety by removing beetle-killed trees from high-risk areas, including around residential areas, roads, trailheads, campgrounds, power lines and, very importantly, from the edges of critical watersheds.

The Farm Bill gives the Forest Service additional flexibility to treat beetle-killed areas and also allows work to continue on stewardship contracting, where the Forest Service partners with private companies to keep forests healthy. More than a thousand acres on the Front Range are treated every year under stewardship contracts, providing local jobs and protecting communities while removing forest products from federal land, improving wildlife habitat and reducing fuel loads for wildfire.

Efforts to restore forests, including agencies and private landowners thinning tree stands and reducing ground fuels, go a long way in protecting our water supplies and the systems that keep them clean. While the benefits of mitigating wildfire are countless, we ought to be aware of how unhealthy and improperly managed forests affect the water we depend on for drinking, agriculture and just plain living.

Working together, we can implement the Farm Bill to achieve these important goals.

Mark Udall is the senior senator for the state of Colorado. He serves on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and is chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks.

Comments

John Weibel 2 years, 4 months ago

It is nice how the feds throw a million things into a bill to ensure the passage of some not so nice parts of legislation. My favorite is the "monsanto" clause.

Stop selling the farm bill as being good for americans. The farm bill promotes unsustainable agriculture, which is feeding us harmful products laced with the BT toxin in high fruitcose corn syrup.

Local ag faces much higher hurdles than other regions. We have a short growing season and many other hurdles which other regions do not. The County should be bending over backwards to help local agriculture - the state is.

The Farm Bill while it might have some benefit's, fails the broader tests, it simply promotes agriculture which concentrates wealth into the hands of the few. Tell Mark Udall that we deserve better than this Farm Bill. No Monsanto Rider should be included.

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Authored by Congressmen and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Related Agencies Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill rider, known as the “farmer assurance provision” (Section 733), specifically outlines that the Secretary of Agriculture will be required, upon request, to “immediately” grant temporary approval or deregulation of a GM crop, even if that crop’s safety is in question or under review.

In other words, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is strong-armed into approving a new GM crop that is later legally challenged in court (which is basically what happened for GM sugar beets and GM alfalfa), the Secretary of Agriculture, under the provisions of the Kingston rider, will be required to approve the cultivation and sale of that crop anyway, even if a higher court has already ordered a moratorium on that crop.

“A so-called ‘Monsanto rider,’ quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, would require — not just allow, but require — the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is completed,” wrote Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins in a recent piece for AlterNet.

“All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.” You can read the rider for yourself, which begins on page 86, Sec. 733 of the following document: http://appropriations.house.gov Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Or.) introduces amendment to kill ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

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Michelle Hale 2 years, 4 months ago

Dead on John.

Monsanto OWNS most of Washington, Dick Derbin and FDA. What a joke. If the American public took time to get educated on what is being pushed into our food they would freak out. However you'll never see the truth in the news or in a paper (because those are owned too) The only places in the world that do not require GMO to be listed is the USA and Canada. Yet what this kind of food is known to do to both animals and humans is shocking.... It would have been nice to see something really worth while on this;... I guess if we the PUBLIC can ever PURCHASE some senators we might have a voice.

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