Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today emphasized the importance of U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) efforts to improve the health of our forests at the confirmation hearing for Robert Bonnie, the President’s nominee to serve as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. If confirmed, Mr. Bonnie would be the highest ranking environmental official at the Department of Agriculture, overseeing the Forest Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
“In recent years, Colorado’s forests have suffered from catastrophic wildfires and unprecedented insect epidemics – both exacerbated by persistent drought conditions and a warming climate,” Bennet said. “A renewed emphasis on proactive forest health – whether it be through wide-scale environmental studies, more stewardship contracts, or any number of other tools – needs to be a priority at the Forest Service.”
Bennet and Bonnie discussed the Forest Service’s 2012 Report on Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on Our National Forests that calls for large, landscape-level environmental analyses to accelerate restoration over a large area without having to complete multiple studies. Bennet also offered Colorado as a possible future location to pilot a similar initiative.
Bennet has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires and mitigate their effects. Most recently, Bennet helped secure language in the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a report on its efforts to mitigate wildfires.
Bennet has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires, led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from last year's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, including organizing a letter of support urging the President to support Governor Hickelooper’s disaster declaration request.
He also authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill and urged the President to expedite a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to this summer’s Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires.