USA — The U.S. Forest Service will award $175 million in new federal funding dedicated to wildfire prevention and forest health. Gov. Bill Ritter has asked the director of the agency for a big chunk of funding for Colorado.
In a letter to Forest Service Chief Abigail R. Kimbell sent Wednesday, Gov. Ritter wrote that drought, climate change and the pine beetle infestation have created a perfect storm of wildfire conditions along the front range.
Here’s a copy of the governor’s letter:
Dear Chief Kimbell:
I am writing, at the recommendation of the Colorado Forest Health Advisory Council, to request your help in addressing our urgent need for hazardous fuel reduction to protect communities, infrastructure and watersheds in and around Colorados forests. The emergency situation were facing is far beyond the states ability to address with current funding levels, despite unprecedented state and local expenditures and the receipt of focused federal dollars.
As part of the recent emergency supplemental bill [P.L. 110-329], Congress provided $175 million in additional federal resources to support critical hazardous fuels treatments on federal, state and private lands that are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire due to population density and fuel loads. While I understand that much of this funding will go to address the ongoing wildfire situation in California, I urge you to consider allocating a significant portion of these newly available resources to Colorado so that we can reduce the chances of similar devastation occurring in the increasingly high-risk and high population areas of our Front Range and beetle-impacted High Country.
Along Colorados Front Range, close to one million people live in and among ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests that are at extremely high wildfire risk due to the combination of drought, climate change and overly dense and even aged conditions. This urban interface population is projected to double by 2030. In the wake of the record setting 2002 fire season, participants in the Front Range Stakeholder Roundtable collaboratively identified 809,000 acres across ten counties that need immediate treatment to reduce wildfire risks to communities. An additional 500,000 acres require treatment to restore healthy ecological conditions. At an average cost of $400 per acre, this demand for treatment far exceeds the average $6 million available each year leaving many lives, homes and critical watersheds at unacceptably high risk to fire.
Additionally, Colorados high country lodgepole pine forests are nearly a decade into a devastating bark beetle epidemic, which has already killed 1.5 million acres of forest and is predicted to kill up to 2.2 million acres in coming years. As a result of this mortality, our high country communities are in need of emergency action to reduce the risk of wildfire and falling hazard trees to people and essential infrastructure. In a recent letter, Regional Forester Rick Cables estimated the costs of addressing these concerns on national forests to be nearly $40 million dollars in fiscal year 2009 alone a calculation that does not include any support to address equally critical needs on state and private lands.
In Colorado we are fortunate to have cooperation among diverse stakeholders regarding what is needed to protect our communities from wildfire. In 2007, I was pleased to sign into law the Community Forest Restoration Act, which was developed through the leadership of state Senator Dan Gibbs. This innovative grant program provides $1 million per year in matching funds to help communities implement projects that reduce risks to homes and essential infrastructure while also restoring critical watersheds. In 2008, the General Assembly approved and I signed additional measures creating tax incentives for hazardous fuel mitigation on private land and utilization of beetle killed wood along with an authorization for the Water Resources and Power Development Authority to support municipal water providers in issuing bonds to pay for forest treatment.
But state and local action alone will not address Colorados critical need. With more than 68 percent of our forested lands in federal ownership, our investment must be leveraged through meaningful federal funding so that fuels treatment can occur across ownerships and at a landscape scale. Without the additional funding, made possible through the emergency supplemental, the State of Colorado will be unable to respond to the imminent threat of wildfire in a manner conducive to maintaining the health, sustainability and safety of Colorados forests and communities.
On behalf of the Forest Health Advisory Council and myself, I want to thank you for your attention to this request and for any assistance you may be able to provide. I will allocate any funding you are able to provide with input from my Advisory Council. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.