Report Commissioned by Bennet Details Fire Mitigation Recommendations from CO Experts
Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner sent the Innovations in Forestry and Fire Mitigation report to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The report commissioned by Bennet details recommendations from Colorado fire and forestry experts on the steps the federal government can take to better support Colorado's wildfire mitigation efforts. The senators presented these recommendations by representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State University, the Colorado Water Congress, County Commissioners from across the Front Range and West Slope, and other members of the forestry, conservation, and wildfire prevention community in May of this year.
In a letter accompanying the report, the senators wrote: "As you know, Colorado has experienced a number of truly devastating wildfires over the last five years and the frequency of such disasters is likely to increase in the future. While we remain focused on solving the major funding issues addressed in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, this report outlines additional steps that can be taken to address wildfire danger at federal, state, and community levels."
A diverse group of experts made these recommendations. They represent a broad spectrum of interests and have an impressive collective history of working closely with the USFS to achieve fire mitigation goals."
In March 2014, Bennet convened a large group of Colorado leaders in forestry and fire mitigation to discuss ways the federal government can best work to support collaborative, on the ground fire protection and forest health efforts. The group spent a day with Senator Bennet and USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie, discussing their real-world experiences working in Colorado forests and communities.
At Bennet's request, the group then worked together to develop the detailed report on the outcomes from that conversation, with specific recommendations for federal policy.
• Focusing on collaborative decision-making processes that advance conversations between federal decision makers and community leaders to address wildfire prevention, forest management, and regulatory processes.
• Increasing education and outreach to homeowners and communities regarding their responsibility to mitigate fuels and property conditions and the actual risk of wildfire.
• Investing in preparedness, collaborative planning, capacity building, and proactive work before wildfires occur.
• Investing federal resources to support community forest health and wildfire prevention leadership.
• Encouraging land management agencies to evaluate their current work and develop new methods that focus on effectiveness across the landscape.
• Requesting that federal forest planning information be more accessible to local and regional groups engaged in complementary work.
Bennet has long advocated for a smarter approach to handling wildfires. In 2013, he chaired a subcommittee hearing to bring attention to shrinking budgets for mitigation efforts and to reform the way we fund wildfire fighting efforts. He has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires, mitigate their effects, and modernize our air tanker fleet. Bennet has led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from previous catastrophic fires, and authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill. He authored the PREPARE Act to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a funding stream specifically for wildfire mitigation and award competitive grants to states to prioritize wildfire mitigation and preparedness projects on federal, state, and private lands. He also is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which seeks to solve the wildfire borrowing problem by treating large, catastrophic fires as natural disasters.
Senator Gardner's leadership on wildfires goes back to his time in the House of Representatives. In 2013, he took on members of his own party to advocate for disaster assistance to victims of Colorado wildfires, and was able to secure a commitment from appropriation Chairman Hal Rogers to support funding for Emergency Watershed Protection in future legislation. Later that year, he participated in a House field hearing in the Colorado State Capitol on wildfire prevention. Gardner was also a co-sponsor of H.R. 3992, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014 and H.R. 818, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act. In the Senate, he quickly signed on as a cosponsor of S. 235, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015.
Full text of the letter below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write you to pass along the attached report, "Innovations in Forestry and Fire Mitigation." This report is the product of collaboration between many of Colorado's most experienced leaders on these issues. It contains a number of recommendations that could help to leverage existing federal funds to increase the pace and scale of collaborative fire mitigation and forest restoration where it is needed most urgently.
As you know, Colorado has experienced a number of truly devastating wildfires over the last five years and the frequency of such disasters is likely to increase in the future. While we remain focused on solving the major funding issues addressed in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, this report outlines additional steps that can be taken to address wildfire danger at federal, state, and community levels.
Although the suggestions in this report address a wide range of agencies and jurisdictions, the majority are focused on the United States Forest Service (USFS). A diverse group of experts made these recommendations. They represent a broad spectrum of interests and have an impressive collective history of working closely with the USFS to achieve fire mitigation goals. One key recommendation that is reiterated throughout the report is the need to reconsider the way that the USFS evaluates forestry success. The report suggests that a focus on the quality of acres treated, rather than simply the quantity of treated acreage, may increase overall success. We hope that you will view this and other recommendations as constructive feedback from valuable partners, and seek ways to implement and incorporate them into your operations wherever possible. We are committed to working with you to achieve this goal.
We thank you for your attention to this report and for your consideration of its recommendations.
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