Letter Urges Forest Service to Use New Funding and Tools to Invest in Colorado Forestry, Recreation, and Infrastructure Projects
Washington, D.C. – After years of budget challenges at the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) which have burdened towns and counties across Colorado, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, today urged the USFS to use the new funding and budget flexibility provided in the 2018 Omnibus federal spending bill and the new forest management authorities secured in the 2018 Farm Bill to invest in Colorado’s forests and watersheds.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment James Hubbard and USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen, Bennet highlighted that the budget challenges the agency has faced for years increased the likelihood of wildfires, put water users at risk, and placed a significant burden on towns and counties across Colorado.
“Chronic underfunding and years of fire borrowing have decimated the USFS’s ability to fulfill their mission,” wrote Bennet. “… budget constraints have also hampered the ability of the USFS to maintain our public lands and improve infrastructure to keep pace with our outdoor economy.”
“… many [Colorado communities] have stepped up to foot the bill and keep their economies growing,” continued Bennet. “For example, Summit County, Pitkin County, Eagle County, Garfield County, and local municipalities are spending over $300,000 annually to fund seasonal rangers in the White River National Forest, which draws visitors from around the world.”
The letter goes on to highlight the measures that Bennet championed last Congress to reform the Forest Service budget, end fire borrowing, and provide innovative new tools for forest and watershed health, wildfire mitigation, and infrastructure projects in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Congress recently worked to address these challenges by providing the Forest Service new budget flexibility and more tools to manage our forests,” wrote Bennet. “Once fully implemented, the 2018 Omnibus and 2018 Farm Bill will empower the Forest Service to better fulfill their mission.”
Bennet’s letter urges the USFS to use the new tools provided to the agency and the new funding that will be available in Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) to support projects in Colorado, such as successful collaborative forest restoration efforts, expedited wildfire mitigation treatments, investments in road and trail infrastructure, and local affordable housing projects.
“The USFS now has a unique opportunity to put the funding and new authorities to work in Colorado and across the country,” continued Bennet. “Accordingly, I ask that you quickly implement the authorities provided in P.L. 115-141 and P.L. 115-334, adequately staff local and regional offices, and prioritize projects in Colorado.”
A copy of the letter is available HERE.
Since joining the Senate, Bennet has worked to end fire borrowing, improve how the federal government pays to fight wildfires, and provide the tools necessary to improve forest and watershed health. During the 115th Congress, Bennet pressed Senate leadership several times to include a fire fix in funding packages, delivered a speech on the Senate floor, and pressed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on a fire fix during his confirmation hearing, later meeting with him to address it again. In September 2017, Bennet introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), which provided the framework for the fire funding fix that Bennet secured in the 2018 Omnibus.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Bennet has worked with Coloradans to write two bipartisan Farm Bills that focus on wildfire mitigation and forest health. The 2014 Farm Bill included Bennet-led measures to streamline wildfire mitigation treatments, reauthorize stewardship contracting, and expand good neighbor forestry agreements. The 2018 Farm Bill included Bennet-led provisions to double funding for community driven, science-based forest management through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) and support innovative forest health partnerships.
This year, during the longest government shutdown in American history, Bennet demanded an end to the shutdown to allow forestry professionals and firefighters to prepare for the 2019 fire season. Last week, Bennet urged appropriators to reinvest the roughly $600 million in savings from Wildfire Disaster Account, created by the 2018 Omnibus, in Forest Service and Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) wildfire prevention projects, as intended.
In addition to the 2018 Omnibus and Farm Bill, the letter references other Bennet-led provisions, such as the John S. McCain III 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which passed into law as a part of the 2019 John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, and the 2016 Trails Stewardship Act, to help the USFS address Colorado’s needs.