Denver –– Last week, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, led an “Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act” Tour with stops in Denver, Clear Creek, Grand, and Routt counties to highlight the importance of forest and watershed health to economies throughout Colorado and the need for Washington to significantly invest in our natural infrastructure. Throughout the tour, Bennet called for passing his Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act (ORPA) in the Build Back Better Budget, which Congress will take up this fall. Download photos from Bennet’s tour HERE.
Here’s what they’re saying about Bennet’s ORPA tour:
With a small notepad in his back jeans pocket, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet drove to several counties in Colorado Tuesday to hear from residents affected by wildfires, mudslides, drought and other calamities worsened by climate change.
Bennet, who recently announced his re-election campaign, booked the road trip to promote the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which he is co-sponsoring with fellow Democrat Rep. Jason Crow. The bill would allocate $60 billion in federal funds to protect forests, watersheds and surrounding communities from wildfires and other destructive events.
The tour included stops in Denver and Clear Creek, Grand and Routt counties, where he met with local elected officials, ranchers, foresters and business owners.
“I have never felt more urgent about climate change than I did this summer,” Bennet said from a family ranch outside of Kremmling. “It is happening right now, it is affecting our health here in Colorado today, it is affecting our economy here.”
A majority of the funding outlined in Bennet’s bill would go toward projects that cross between jurisdictions, such as thinning forests, removing invasive species like cheatgrass and reintroducing low-intensity fires in areas where fires are common.
The bill would also offer grants to expand the public’s access to outdoor areas.
Bennet said he hopes the massive wildfires in the West convince his Beltway colleagues to keep the bill in the final version of the reconciliation package, which the Senate is expected to deliberate in September.
“One thing that’s benefiting us is that the smoke from California actually made it all the way east,” he said. “I think people saw it, smelled it in Washington and New York, and that’s helping our case.”
Sen. Michael Bennet is talking about possible solutions for the West’s wildfire and water supply concerns. Representatives from Denver Water and Denver Parks and Recreation teamed up with farmers and ranchers at Confluence Park on Tuesday.
“I’m proposing we spend this money at $1,500 an acre to do the upfront mitigation instead of the backend firefighting. And not only is that a fiscally responsible way of doing it, but we can also create almost two million jobs in the West,” said Bennet.
That mitigation includes prescribed burns, fire mitigation and shoring up watersheds to increase access to clean drinking water.
Steamboat Pilot & Today: Sen. Bennet pushes $60B forestry bill in Steamboat as proactive response to wildfires
Fighting fires in the Routt National Forest in the past five years cost the U.S. Forest Service about $100 million. When looking at the whole Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, the price tag rises to $190 million.
More than half of the total Forest Service budget is being spent on fire suppression, said Michael Woodbridge, Hahns Peak, Bears Ears District Ranger for the Forest Service. It used to be less than 30%, he said.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is proposing a $60 billion bill that would invest in both the Forest Service to tackle a backlog of restoration projects and to state, local and tribal governments to fund local mitigation efforts.
“That sounds like a lot of money,” Bennet said, at a gathering Tuesday in Steamboat Springs with local forest officials and other stakeholders in Routt County. “We spent $60 billion in the last five years fighting fires, which is the most expensive forest treatment that you can possibly imagine.”
Bennet said the Forest Service is spending about $50,000 per acre on fire suppression, a much higher price than what it would take to purchase a large ranch in Routt County. The Strawberry Park Ranch, one of the last undeveloped parcels of land just north of Steamboat, is currently on the market with an asking price of about $33,000 per acre.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has wrapped up a busy Tuesday touting the money that could come Colorado's way with the passage of his Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act legislation.
Bennet visited Clear Creek County to talk with outdoor business, ski industry and local government representatives; in Grand County he spoke with ranchers and their local government officials; and then he wrapped up the day on the side of Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs.
The Mount Werner stop drew U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, ski industry and city representatives to talk about the biggest part of the Act: $60 billion for forest health and watersheds.
Russ Bacon, supervisor for the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grasslands at the U.S. Forest Service, pointed out they've spent $190 million in the last five years on wildfires covering a half million acres in his area, which he said is ten times the normal budget.
"What I wouldn't give for even ten percent of that to be proactive, rather than reactive" he told Bennet. That doesn't take into account costs for reforestation, dealing with noxious weeds that spring up after a fire and soil stabilization. Then there's the long term costs to local communities, Bacon said.
But aside from the funding, one of the bigger issues is working across boundaries, be it federal, state, local and private. "We've all woken up," said John Twitchell of the Colorado State Forest Service. "We're on a good path but we're strapped. I see [the bill] as our future and as sustainable."
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet visited Denver’s Confluence Park on Tuesday to launch a multi-stop tour in support of legislation that would funnel billions toward federal, state and local efforts to mitigate wildfire risk and protect vulnerable watersheds throughout the West.
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead and other local officials joined Bennet on the banks of the South Platte River on Tuesday, highlighting the risks that wildfires, which have been made more frequent and destructive by climate change, pose to water supplies. Post-fire debris flows like the ones that have shut down Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon for long periods this summer can threaten the health of watersheds relied on by utilities large and small across the mountain West.
“I don’t think it’s too much to say that Colorado’s entire economy, our entire way of life, is being threatened (by climate change),” Bennet said.
Grand County rancher and researcher Wendy Thompson remembers when the Colorado River would flood her hay fields on an annual basis, but she’s pretty sure the last time it happened was in the 1980s.
On Tuesday afternoon, Thompson shared with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet how drought, fires, invasive species and more impact the Thompson Ranch, which sits along a portion of the Colorado River that runs perpendicular with Colorado Highway 9 outside Kremmling.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Thompson said of dealing with the varying amount of water each year. “It’s kind of sad, I think.”
According to Bennet, the investment would be equal to direct funding for forest and watershed management the past five years combined.
He believes that recent natural disasters, including last year’s fire season, show the urgent need for the legislation and will push more members of Congress to support the effort.
“I do know that this piece will be extremely important in rural and red parts of the country, because every single farmer and rancher downstream will benefit from this work,” he said.
Within Colorado, the act has broad and bipartisan support, including from Republican Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke.
“This is a great first step in recognizing and acknowledging the problem that was created over 30 years ago,” Linke said in a statement. “The lack of proactive management and the ‘hands-off’ approach is now clearly having devastating effects on our communities, forest health and sustainable watersheds. This bill addresses this problem, provides much needed funding, and hopefully is the beginning of a new era in resource management.”
As Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet kicked off a cross-state tour today promoting his proposal to invest $60 billion in forest restoration and resiliency, he admitted he'd essentially be preaching to the choir.
"People feel [just] as urgent about this in every single part of the state," Bennet said, pointing to support from farming and ranching communities on the state's Western Slope to its urban areas along the Front Range.
Bennet — joined by representatives of the Audubon Rockies, Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Counties Inc., and Denver Parks and Recreation, all seated in canvas camping chairs — insisted his state tour was necessary to create "a sense of urgency" about the legislation.
Bennet, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources, later added that he believes the proposal could pass as part of the Senate's looming reconciliation package.
"I think this will be in that, and we're going to move heaven and earth to make sure that it is," Bennet said. "Right now it is. We got to keep it there until the end. There are going to be a lot of twist and turns … but I am really optimistic because this has penetrated the national consciousness in a way that it hadn't before. That gives us an opportunity to really succeed here."