The recent article “Colorado lawmakers ask Congress to fix wildfire funding issue,” highlights the complex issue of wildfire funding, an issue that directly affects our local national forests.
I applaud our state legislators for once again passing a Senate Joint Memorial, strongly sending a message that our national forests can no longer afford to do business as usual in terms of funding fire suppression. Not only do the federal agencies routinely run out of money, but continually drawing money from unobligated sources or programs through “fire transfer” is severely hurting other programs such as recreation and wildlife. But, the reality is that simply fixing fire funding will not solve this complicated issue. Throughout Colorado and most of the west, forest health has deteriorated significantly. This is evident in the increasing amount of mortality from insects and disease, as well as the large wildfires that continue to occur each summer.
So what should be done? In addition to fixing fire funding, congress needs to pass forest management reform that allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to do their job. Rather than spending large sums of money on just planning and later defending projects, let’s use that money to actually get work done on the ground. Let’s streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), without sacrificing environmental protection. While I am certainly not advocating that the Forest Service go and harvest trees everywhere, I do believe that managing the lands that have been classified as suitable for timber production will go a long way in creating healthy forests. Of the 1.86 million acres of the San Juan National Forests, only 311,949 (16.7%) are considered suitable for timber production. By managing these lands, we can create a mosaic on the landscape that will hopefully reduce the threat of insects and disease and catastrophic wildfire.
Rather than just continually throwing money at the problem, let’s fix what is causing the problem.
Molly Pitts serves Rocky Mountains Regional Director for Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.