"A proactive approach to fuel reduction is a far better use of funds,"? CEO says
Today, Davey Pitcher, President and CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area, testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources, chaired by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, on the damage that the West Fork Complex Fire inflicted on southwest Colorado and ways to reduce the risk and severity of such fires in the future.
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 against 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 Davey 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 these 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 Pitcher, today's hearing included testimony from Sallie Clark, El Paso County Commissioner and Second Vice President of the National Association of Counties (NACo), and U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard, among others. Hubbard served as the Colorado State Forester between 1984 and 2004.
In his testimony Pitcher stated:
"Over the past decade, the cost of federal wildfire protection and suppression has averaged more than $3 billion annually. The West Fork Complex Fire alone cost taxpayers $33 million. By all indications, these numbers will continue to rise. Investing a portion of this cost upfront would most likely minimize the overall cost of responding to fires on public land and protecting the wildland-urban interface. There is a general consensus among professional firefighters that a proactive approach to fuel reduction is a far better use of funds. For example, a contracted helicopter will cost over $15,000 a day when responding to fires.
"Another wildfire in southern Colorado is inevitable if conditions remain the same. When looking at the millions of acres of dead trees, we should resist simply seeing a chainsaw. Public outreach, timber sales, fuel reduction, controlled burns and energy design should be used in conjunction to create an economically and environmentally sound forest health prescription that protects asset values on Wolf Creek Pass."
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.