It's Time to Chart a New Path in Forest Management
Rep. Boebert's editorial was originally published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
Decades of eco-terrorism have effectively shut down our national forests from responsible management. The result? Now there are six billion standing dead trees in the West that create a tinder box waiting to ignite one devastating forest fire after another.
It doesn’t need to be this way, which is why I introduced the most comprehensive forest management bill in decades. The bill pays for itself, generates revenue for local communities, and most importantly, makes our forests healthier and safer for all of us to enjoy.
In 2020, the U.S. set a record as 57,000 wildfires burned over 10.3 million acres. From 2015 to 2020, the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture spent $14.1 billion of taxpayer money just putting out fires. That staggering figure does not include cleanup costs or the rebuilding efforts for families who lost everything they owned.
The federal government’s negligence has victimized our communities, and every summer, it’s the same story, with massive wildfires scorching the West. Farmers lose their livestock. Families lose their homes. Precious photos, family heirlooms, and life savings go up in smoke. Even more tragically, people lose their lives.
Currently, Colorado is experiencing the worst air quality in the world due to wildfire smoke pouring in from the west. This dangerous smoke causes serious medical disorders like eye and respiratory tract infections, reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma, and even reduced life expectancy. Wildfire smoke is also devastating for the environment, and NASA estimates that one large wildfire releases as much pollution in a few days as all the cars in an entire state over the course of a year.
Last year, Colorado had the three largest recorded wildfires in state history. The Pine Gulch Fire burned 140,000 acres in Mesa and Garfield counties and caused $26 million in damages. The Cameron Peak Fire was the largest wildfire in Colorado history, burning more than 460 farms, homes, and businesses, and causing massive flooding that killed three people. The Grizzly Creek Fire was a crown fire that damaged soil and vegetation and its burn scars are responsible for the mudslides that have shut down I-70 and are causing significant economic harm to local communities on the West Slope.
Unfortunately, 2020 was not an outlier. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire caused two deaths, destroyed 346 homes, and forced the evacuation of 32,000 people. In 2002, the Hayman Fire killed six people. In 1994, the Storm King Mountain Fire in Glenwood Springs killed 14 firefighters.
Decades of mismanagement have left our nation’s forests vulnerable to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires. Frivolous lawsuits from extremist groups have caused a steep reduction in active sawmills nationwide, from 1,311 in 1995 to just over 200 today. Forests in Colorado and the West that once had 50-100 trees per acre are now dangerously overcrowded with 500-1,000 trees per acre. Our forests are overgrown and poorly managed, making them more susceptible to large wildfires, disease, and bark beetle attacks.
Enough homes, livelihoods, livestock, forests, businesses, and lives have been destroyed, which is why I introduced the Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention, and Community Protection Act.
This comprehensive legislation is a result of meetings with firefighters and communities throughout Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District who have all said the same thing: outdated, unscientific forest management policies don’t work, and our forests need to be actively managed.
My bill authorizes active management on a larger scale to reduce the current threats to our communities. It establishes the Western Bark Beetle Epidemic Fund to remove dead bark beetle trees. H.R. 4302 contains important litigation reforms that remove incentives for extremist groups to file frivolous lawsuits that have closed our mills and prevented important forest management projects. My legislation is fully paid for and will generate billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.
My bill puts rural communities first by ensuring counties receive 25% of the revenue generated from timber harvests, allowing them to fund essential services including local wildland firefighting teams, hotshots, smokejumpers, helitak wildfire fighting teams, and equip their firefighters with the best training and equipment possible.
My legislation empowers forestry experts to make real scientific improvements to our forests. It’s time to chart a new path in forest management that’s guided by science, protects rural communities, benefits the environment, and actively manages our forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires.