Clark Invokes Waldo Canyon Fire Experiences to Urge Additional Investment in Forest Service Mitigation Efforts
Today, Sallie Clark, El Paso County Commissioner and Second Vice President of the National Association of Counties (NACo), testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources, chaired by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, on the tragic effects of the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires and the importance of increasing funding for wildfire mitigation efforts.
Bennet held the hearing, "Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Risks of Wildfire," to draw attention to the budgeting and policy decisions that guide the U.S. Forest Service’s action to mitigate and suppress wildfires. According to the Congressional Budget Office, every $1 in wildfire mitigation funding saves $5 in future disaster losses.
“Hearing from Coloradans like Commissioner Clark who have witnessed firsthand the destruction of these wildfires is important to helping us do a better job of directing federal resources where they are needed most," Bennet said. "The threat of wildfire in Colorado is only going to intensify if we don’t address this problem now. It's imperative that we provide our communities with the resources they need to implement the wildfire mitigation tactics necessary to reduce the number of wildfires in the coming season."
In addition to Commissioner Clark, today's hearing included testimony from Davey Pitcher, President and CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area, and Jim Hubbard, U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief. Hubbard served as the Colorado State Forester between 1984 and 2004.
In her testimony, Commissioner Clark stated:
"The Waldo Canyon Fire was a stark reminder of the need to be proactive in our efforts to protect our citizens, property, and resources. We understand that no single effort is perfect and we cannot end the threat of destructive wildfires. But it is important that we recognize and establish a framework for state, local and federal government agencies and the private sector, to work together to identify and manage our forests in a responsible way and to implement policies that provide the ability to get the job done.
"The Board of El Paso County Commissioners unanimously supports proactive measures to lessen the likelihood of future deadly and destructive wildfires like Waldo Canyon and supports the results of a 2007 Congressional Budget Office study that indicated every dollar invested in healthy forest and wildfire mitigation will save more than five dollars in future disaster losses."
Bennet has been a strong advocate for wildfire mitigation efforts. In August, he introduced a bipartisan, deficit-neutral bill that would award competitive grants to states for priority wildfire mitigation and preparedness projects on federal, state, and private land. He was also successful in securing two key provisions in the Senate version of the 2013 Farm Bill that would improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires: his National Forest and Insect Disease Act, which would prioritize the treatment of national forest land that is suffering from insect epidemics, and his Permanent Stewardship Contracting Reauthorization Act, which would permanently reauthorize stewardship contracting, an important tool that allows the USFS to partner with private businesses and individuals to help thin trees and reduce fuel loads.
Bennet also led members of the Colorado delegation in successfully urging President Obama to designate the Black Forest and Royal Gorge Fires as major disasters. He was also instrumental in securing Emergency Watershed Protection funds for areas affected by last year's High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.