Throughout Tour, Bennet Highlights Importance of Forest and Watershed Health to Colorado's Economy and Climate
Download Photos from the Tour HERE
Steamboat Springs –– Yesterday, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, hosted 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. Throughout the tour, Bennet called for passing his Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act (ORPA) as a part of the Build Back Better Budget, which Congress will take up this Fall.
Bennet’s legislation has broad, bipartisan support in Colorado and will boost local economies by investing $60 billion in forests and watersheds across the Mountain West to reduce wildfire risk. Leaders from water; agriculture; state, local, and federal government agencies; and the business community joined Bennet for the tour and stressed that ORPA would support locally-led efforts to restore forests, protect water supplies, and build climate resilience. Bennet’s tour ends at the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference in Steamboat Springs today.
“From wildfires to mudslides to drought, we’ve reached a critical inflection point in Colorado. Coloradans know that now is the time to make big, long-term investments in our forests and watersheds,” said Bennet. “In the wake of last year’s fires, we wrote the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act which would invest $60 billion in our forests to reduce wildfire risk, restore watersheds, and protect our water supplies. This tour demonstrated the broad, bipartisan support this bill has across Colorado. We have a chance now to pass this bill in the Build Back Better Budget and we can’t waste it.”
“Audubon has supported the Outdoor Recreation Partnership Act from its inception because it simply makes sense, not only benefiting local economies but also creating more resilient wildlife habitat. As the West gets pummeled by severe drought and unprecedented wildfires, residents are increasingly calling for Congressional help. This Act stands up to the challenge and takes a science-based and collaborative approach to the management of our watersheds, forest and rangelands,” said Alison Holloran, Executive Director, Audubon Rockies, VP National Audubon Society.
“Our family farm and farmers across the west depend on a reliable, clean water source and that is why it is so important to invest in all of our futures by protecting and restoring the health of our watersheds,” said Robert Sakata, Farmer, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would provide critical funding to expand forest restoration projects in Colorado and across the West. Investing in the maintenance of our forests will help Colorado mitigate the risk of wildfires and bolster our state’s outdoor recreation economy,” said John Swartout, Executive Director, Colorado Counties, Inc.
“Another year of large, high-severity ‘mega-fires’ in the West clearly demonstrates that climate change has ushered in a new era of wildfire in the region -- one in which we no longer dictate when and where fires burn. The significant increases in area burned despite continued increases in fire suppression funding question our continued reliance on reactive wildfire policies. The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act provides a new perspective in the form of a proactive investment in our forested landscapes to facilitate community and landscape adaptation to increasing wildfires in a warming world. Proactive investments in our forests will increase the resiliency of many forest systems and create more opportunities to restore the vital process of fire to wild landscapes and facilitate forest adaptation to climate change,” Dr. Jason Sibold, Professor of Geography, Colorado State University.
“In rural northwest Colorado, our jobs and the local economy are dependent on our natural resources. It's why our locals live here, businesses locate here, and visitors spend money here. As business, government, and community leaders discussed yesterday, the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act supports jobs and the economy with a sustainable and collaborative approach towards the health of our natural environment. I applaud Senator Bennet for his leadership with this legislation and focus on the health and safety of our mountain communities,” said John Bristol, Economic Development Director, Steamboat Springs Resort Chamber.
“As an ag producer in Grand County Colorado, I am grateful for the direct attention Senator Bennet is paying to our challenges. I look forward to ongoing conversation and to learning how we can further support the repair of our natural resources and our ability to operate during this ongoing drought,” said Paul Bruchez, Rancher.
“I support the Senator’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act. This is a great first step in recognizing and acknowledging the problem that was created over 30 years ago. 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,” said Merrit Linke, Grand County Commissioner.
“Resort Group and its companies have grown to manage over 90 homeowner associations, 5,000 individual properties, and over 450 vacation rentals. Our community and its growth depends on preserving and safeguarding our natural spaces for our outdoor recreation economy and way of life. The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act creates resilience and sustainability for NW Colorado through investment in the infrastructure and management of the lands necessary for our ever-growing outdoor recreation and tourism industry,” said Mark Walker, President, Resort Group LLC.
“Like so many communities in the West, our river is part of the life blood of Steamboat Springs. The Yampa River runs through the heart of the city and is an anchor of the local and regional economy, particularly for agriculture, recreation, and tourism. Its health and resiliency starts largely in our forests, where snowpack develops at high elevations and mostly on federal lands. Cross-boundary approaches to land management and investments in protecting and restoring healthy forests and watersheds are critical to sustainability and security at the local level,” said Julie Baxter, Water Resources Manager, City of Steamboat Springs.
“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is the culmination of a long effort by Senator Bennet to improve watershed health. When he introduced this legislation, it was clear that he was listening to us when he visited Clear Creek County last October. He put the pieces in place to craft legislation to protect our forests and watershed, and we appreciate it,” said Randy Wheelock, Commissioner, Clear Creek County.
“It goes without saying that reducing the impact of wildfires and maintaining healthy watersheds are key to running a successful rafting business in Colorado. The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act will make the necessary investments to meet this goal,” said Susan Paterson, Co-owner, Clear Creek Rafting Co.
“We appreciate Senator Bennet’s work on the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act and believe it will not only help the resort but also support the important collaboration that is currently taking place in Routt County. Wildfire risk reduction and forest health work is an ongoing process and if ORPA can become a longer-term funding structure for this type of work it will allow us to maintain the outdoor amenity that is our backyard,” said Loryn Duke, Communications Director, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
“Denver Water has invested tens of millions of dollars in mitigating the aftereffects of catastrophic wildfire, and in partnering with the US Forest Service to treat forests in our watersheds to deal with future events. But we can’t do it alone. Increased federal investments will be essential to protecting a sustainable water supply for future generations," said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager.
The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would:
- Establish an Outdoor Restoration Fund to increase support for local collaborative efforts to restore forests and watersheds, reduce wildfire risk, clean up public lands, enhance wildlife habitat, remove invasive species, and expand outdoor access.
- Empower local leaders by making $20 billion directly available to state and local governments, Tribes, special districts, and nonprofits to support restoration, resilience, and mitigation projects across public, private, and Tribal lands. Empowering local leaders that have the ability to bring diverse voices to the table is the path for progress in the West.
- Partner with states and Tribes to invest $40 billion in targeted, science-based wildfire mitigation and forest restoration projects to reduce wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface and high priority watersheds. This investment allows federal agencies to partner with local stakeholders to improve forest and watershed health and build climate and community resilience, which will sustain our economy and way of life.
- Create or sustain two million good-paying jobs, primarily in rural areas, to support existing industries like agriculture and outdoor recreation, and protect our water supply, while providing an opportunity for communities to draw in new business.
- Save landowners and local governments money by investing in wildfire prevention and natural hazard mitigation, which is three to six times more cost-effective than recovering from natural disasters like wildfires or post-fire floods.
- Generate over $156 billion in economic output, with a return of up to $15 for every dollar spent on restoration, while upgrading our natural infrastructure for the millions of Americans whose livelihood, health, and wellbeing rely on it.
In March 2021, President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan included a commitment to invest in restoration and resilience consistent with Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act.
As Chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Bennet’s decade of work on forestry and conservation is informed by Coloradans’ ideas. In the 2014 Farm Bill, Bennet led development of the conservation and forestry title, which expanded Good Neighbor Authority nationwide, following a successful pilot program in Colorado, and expedited treatment of forests affected by insects or disease. Bennet also helped write the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which has funded multiple projects in Colorado, including in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and in the Lower Gunnison.
For years, Bennet introduced the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), which provided the framework for the fire funding fix that Bennet secured in the 2018 Omnibus. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet led the effort to maintain full conservation funding, place a greater emphasis on climate and drought, and secure new resources for our national forests. Bennet also helped expand funding for voluntary water conservation efforts through USDA conservation programs.
After Colorado suffered the three largest wildfires in state history last year, Bennet convened the Western Climate Resilience Roundtable to develop a collaborative, consensus-driven set of priorities for western climate resilience. One of the group’s top priorities was “Supporting healthy soils, forests, rangeland, rivers, and watersheds will make our communities more resilient and help maximize the climate mitigation potential of western landscapes.”
The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is supported by the National Wildlife Federation, National Association of State Foresters, The Nature Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, American Forests, National Audubon Society, Family Farm Alliance, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Western Landowners Alliance, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Conservation Legacy, Mule Deer Foundation, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, American Fly Fishing Trade Association.