Washington, D.C. -U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined their Senate colleagues late Thursday in passing the conference report for the Interior Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010, and sending the legislation containing key funding for Colorado's national parks, forests and public lands to the President's desk. The bill passed by a vote of 72-28.
In addition to funding Interior Department agencies in Colorado, the bill includes a provision the Senators worked to add, which will help the federal government pay for the worst wildfires each year. Called the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009, the provision changes the way the federal government budgets for wildfires. In the last decade, federal fire suppression costs have skyrocketed, and today, the federal government spends 80 percent of its funding for wildfire suppression on 2 percent of the fires - the largest and most complex. The new wildfire provision creates a separate account for money to fight the worst, most dangerous fires without limiting the ability for the forest service to execute routine forest health, fire mitigation activities.
The Senators also successfully fought to include funding to improve public lands in Colorado. The bill would help expand the Uncompahgre National Forest near Ophir, and enable the state of Colorado to purchase permanent conservation easements on the YMCA of the Rockies' Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County, among other projects.
The expansion of the Uncompahgre National Forest is an extension of the Red Mountain Project along the San Juan Skyway, one of only 21 "All-American Roads" in the National Scenic Byway. The funding will pay to acquire more than 300 acres for the national forest. Purchasing the easements on Snow Mountain Ranch will promote tourism and help protect the upper watershed of Pole Creek and important wildlife habitat.
"I was proud to fight to expand the Uncompahgre National Forest and preserve the Snow Mountain Ranch. Both will help protect our natural heritage and boost our economy by drawing even more visitors to Colorado," Senator Udall said. "The FLAME Act provision is a much-needed fix to our broken wildfire funding process. If another serious fire were to threaten a Colorado community, this change will help ensure federal funding will be there."
"This bill is a win-win for Colorado's communities and our natural heritage," Senator Bennet said. "Colorado's blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that offers tremendous recreational opportunities for everyone to enjoy. This bill reaffirms our commitment to Colorado's public lands and signature landscapes, and makes common-sense budgeting changes that will help keep our forests healthy and our communities safe."
Details about some of the Colorado funding in the bill follow:
Snow Mountain Ranch - $2,500,000
- The funding through the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program will enable the Colorado State Forest Service to purchase permanent conservation easements on the Snow Mountain Ranch. It will preserve the natural beauty of this American treasure for posterity, promoting tourism revenue, helping protect the upper watershed of Pole Creek, and preserving important wildlife habitat.
Uncompahgre National Forest Land Acquisition - $1,000,000
- These funds will be used to acquire up to 350 acres to add to Uncompahgre National Forest, protecting hundreds of acres of scenic forest land from destruction and creating a natural extension of the successful Red Mountain project, located just to the north and east of the Ophir Valley along a different portion of the San Juan Skyway. It also will be complemented by other land protection and recreation enhancement efforts along and adjacent to the San Juan Skyway, one of only 21 All-American Roads in the National Scenic Byway.
Mesa Verde National Park - $22,175,000
- Construction of a curation center and visitor's center.
Bureau of Land Management Grand Junction Field Office - $176,000
- This funding will help pay for construction of the Bridgeport Access Trail.