Sen. Udall presses for greater local wildfire-prevention efforts

Sen. Udall presses for greater local wildfire-prevention efforts

06 December 2013

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USA — New language in the farm bill looks to localize wildfire-prevention efforts and reauthorize stewardship contracts.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., was joined by a bipartisan group of Western senators in support of inclusion of the new language.

“We urge the conferees to reauthorize and expand Good Neighbor Authority nationally and to permanently reauthorize Stewardship Contracting Authority,” Udall and the senators wrote in their letter to the farm bill conference committee. “These programs will streamline federal funds and increase the role of state and local agencies in federal forest management, while keeping our lands healthy, protect communities and save money in the long-term by mitigating our risks for catastrophic wildfires.”

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management give stewardship contracts to local, private businesses. These long-term contracts commission the companies to work on strengthening forest heath in their areas through efforts such as clearing brush, producing timber products and generating biomass energy.

Nationally, more than 545,625 acres of forests have been delegated to private companies through these contracts.

In Colorado and Utah, a Good Neighbor Authority program is also in place.

This program “allows state foresters to work across local and state boundaries to perform forest, rangeland and watershed restoration services on National Forest System and BLM land,” according to a news release from Udall’s office.

J.R. Ford of Pagosa Land & Cattle Co. thinks the new language of the bill is imperative to ensure that residents of the Southwest feel confident in wildfire-prevention efforts.

“It gives people confidence that the things they want are getting done,” he said. “Even if the actual effects aren’t any different.”

Ford, whose company currently holds a stewardship contract, also thinks the extension of stewardship contracts through this bill will aid wildfire-prevention efforts greatly.

“It is imperative that contracts be extended,” he said.

Nancy Fishering, policy coordinator of the Intermountain Forest Association, sees the bill as a positive step toward improved wildfire mitigation because of the localization of prevention efforts.

“(People who live here) understand our environment,” she said. “(In D.C.) they don’t even live in the West. They like our mountains, but they don’t live in our climate.”

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