Neguse and Gibbs: Invest in Colorado’s forests with Build Back Better Act
Last year’s record-setting wildfire season in Colorado was a wake-up call. The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires, which burned nearly 400,000 acres combined, threatened homes, businesses, wildlife, and local water supplies.
In the wake of these fires, our communities were left with a massive recovery price tag and dwindling federal resources to restore severely burned soils, rebuild homes, protect watersheds and prepare for future wildfires that we know will follow this year’s unprecedented drought and heat.
The enormous scale and intensity of these climate-influenced events demand a historic investment in America’s forests to mitigate wildfires and to harness the natural climate solutions of our lands.
Like so many other issues, forest management is not black or white and must be led by science. Forests require proper care and management to reduce the risk of wildfire, protect water quality, increase wildlife diversity and expand economic opportunity.
Communities in the Wildland Urban Interface, including Fort Collins, Estes Park, Grand Lake, and Vail, rely on forests, watersheds, and the economic impact of outdoor recreation and tourism tied to these areas. Protecting our forests is essential to ensure our communities are thriving and safe.
Our forests can be a tool for cleaning our air and water, lowering surface temperatures and energy use, and ultimately contributing to climate action. To capture this potential, however, our forests need an investment like never before.
With the Build Back Better Act, currently being considered in Congress, we have the opportunity to deliver on these historic investments.
Over a year ago U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse proposed a multi-billion investment in our forests, partnered with significant investments in our natural resource workforce through the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps. Now these investments are being included in the Build Back Better Act in Congress. For Colorado and the West, this money is absolutely crucial to fund recovery work that our local communities simply cannot afford alone.
Rep. Neguse’s plan to invest in our forests would support collaborative forest restoration programs that helped to slow the advance of the Cameron Peak Fire in 2020. Areas that had been treated by federal, state, and private land managers served as a buffer to dampen the intensity of the fire and slow its spread, proving just how critical forest restoration work is. U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has championed similar key investments in the US Senate.
The plan, as outlined in the Build Back Better Act, includes direct, historic investments in wildfire prevention efforts both in and outside the Wildland Urban Interface to help local firefighters and protect businesses and communities. These federal investments would leverage over $88 million in funding recently enacted by the state for wildfire recovery, risk mitigation, and workforce development. While Colorado has taken bold steps in funding our lands and waters, including the Keep Colorado Wild initiative and Outdoor Equity Fund, the vast scale of need and federal land ownership demands bold federal investment as well.
As future water supply and access become increasingly uncertain across the West, investments outlined in the Build Back Better plan would provide funding for watershed and vegetation management, to reduce climate-related risks to our water supplies. There are many critical projects taking place across the 2nd district and in Colorado that are in need of additional federal support in order to continue restoration efforts in the wake of last year’s fires.
This plan would also provide funds to maintain trails, upgrade legacy roads in our National Forests, protect and recover at-risk species, rehabilitate severely burned areas, and expand access to the outdoors through investments in urban parks.
This is a plan for the West, one that considers the consequences of climate change and the need to reduce fuels in our forests to mitigate the risks of wildfire. As western wildfires become more frequent and more intense, and as drought and flooding continue to affect local communities, an investment in our forests and watersheds is urgently needed.
In the West, our communities are inextricably linked to our environment. Clean air, clean water, and a healthy and sustainable outdoors are at the core of our way of life, and at the heart of what makes each of our communities thrive. Our natural resources are sacred and precious. They drive our economy, support our rural communities, inspire our commitment to sustainability and impact the health and well-being of Colorado.
As we follow the science, and as we prepare for worsening wildfires due to climate change, we must provide this bold, historic investment in our forests for our communities and for Colorado.
Congressman Joe Neguse represents Colorado’s 2nd District in the U.S. Congress and serves as Chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Dan Gibbs is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a certified wildland firefighter.
By: Rep. Joe Neguse and Dan Gibbs
Source: Denver Post
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