The forests are smiling


Military tankers work the Black Forest Fire last year. - ARMY NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO BY 2ND LT. SKYE A. ROBINSON
  • Army National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Skye A. Robinson
  • Military tankers work the Black Forest Fire last year.
Colorado's U.S. senators are bragging about their role in helping protect the national forests from bugs and fires.

In today's email, like most days, we received several news releases heralding the work of Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. This time the good news involves their work on behalf of keeping the nation's forests from being eaten up or burning down.

The first came from Udall's office. He takes credit for pushing the Forest Service to augment its air tanker fleet in time for the 2014 wildfire season. From the release:

"Wildfire threatens Colorado's water, communities and special way of life. That's why I have fought for years to ensure the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado firefighting agencies have the tools they need, including modern air tankers, to contain blazes before they become mega-fires," Udall said. "I am proud the U.S. Forest Service has heeded my calls to aggressively augment its air tanker fleet, but we need to stay vigilant. I will continue to work with the Forest Service, military and Colorado agencies to ensure we leverage every resource possible to protect Coloradans' homes and lives."

Udall's comments follow the U.S. Forest Service's moves to secure a series of one-year tanker contracts to complement its current air tanker fleet, which includes older-model aircraft and several next-generation air tankers.
Seven minutes later, we received a news release from Bennet's office, stating that he welcomed statements from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the Forest Service is closing in on procurement of four additional air tankers for wildfire suppression efforts, which brings the fleet to 21 large air tankers.
Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, helped secure a provision in the Farm Bill authorizing the Forest Service to lease up to five new air tankers. Bennet also worked to ensure the provision remained in the Farm Bill as a member of the Conference Committee that finalized the bill.

“Parts of Colorado continue to experience severe drought conditions, and with the weather warming up, the potential for wildfires grows every day,” Bennet said. “These new tankers will be crucial to fighting wildfires and protecting our communities, critical infrastructure, and natural resources.”

Bennet has worked tirelessly to support policies that will help improve forest health and prevent and fight wildfires, including a call on Congress and the administration to make federal resources available to update the air tanker fleet.
Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has been a relentless advocate for Colorado communities facing the threat of catastrophic mega-fires. He has pressed the military to elevate the readiness status of its aerial firefighting assets — C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems. He also recently urged the U.S. Forest Service to quickly adopt the Government Accountability Office's recommendations on how to upgrade its air tanker fleet.
In between the two, a joint news release came out talking about the Ag Department's designation of 94 national forest areas in 35 states for "expedited insect and disease treatments."

Damage from beetles. This photo was taken on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park where many of the slopes look 90% dead. - TIM WILSON
  • Tim Wilson
  • Damage from beetles. This photo was taken on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park where many of the slopes look 90% dead.

More than 9.6 million areas in Colorado's Arapaho-Roosevelt, Grand Mesa, Gunnison, Pike, Rio-Grande, Routt, San Juan, and White River national forests will receive treatment, the release said.

These issues — fire and bugs — go together as bark-beetle-infested trees burn faster than healthy trees. Bennet and Udall have worked on both issues on behalf of the Centennial State.

From the release:
The authority to expedite the treatment process stems from the National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act, a bill Bennet introduced and Udall cosponsored last year. It was signed into law as part of the Farm Bill earlier this year.

“Millions of acres in Colorado’s forests and throughout the country have been devastated by insect and disease epidemics. It’s hurting our tourism economy and threatening critical infrastructure, recreation, and our forested communities,” Bennet said. “We made sure to include environmental safeguards while putting in place tools for expediting treatment of these at-risk areas. This work by the Forest Service will help reduce the risk of wildfires and the threats they pose to our communities and natural resources.”

“There is no greater threat to Colorado's homes, lives and special way of life than the growing threat of wildfire. Today's announcement is a victory for Colorado communities threatened by fire and those who depend on water supplies from forests where dead wood and fuel loads have grown to dangerous levels,” Udall said. “While this is a step in the right direction — and a legislative victory I am proud of — I will continue to fight to ensure our forest managers and firefighters have the tools they need to protect our communities. It also is essential that we continue to support the partnerships the U.S. Forest Service has with forest products and biomass industry to find innovative ways to turn the beetle kill problem into jobs.”

The bill directs the Forest Service to treat one or more subwatersheds on all National Forests that are experiencing certain thresholds of insect epidemics or disease that impairs forest health. In consultation with state officials, USFS will identify eligible areas to conduct expedited treatments of acreage suffering from insect and disease epidemics.


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