Wed August 15, 2012

Colorado's Poor Forest Health May Fuel Additional Wildfires

A Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee held a field hearing in Colorado Springs Wednesday. The hearing, chaired by Colorado Senator Mark Udall, highlighted forest health issues that remain following this summer’s deadly wildfires.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, The U.S. Forest Service, and the Colorado timber industry were part of the hearing.

Dr. Merrill Kaufman, with the Forest Service, testified about the critical need to improve Colorado's forest health. He says thousands of acres of the state's forest land still pose a risk to 'human life, property, and watersheds' [.pdf].

“Effective treatment requires massive removal of biomass, and it doesn’t matter if it’s mechanical or prescribed burning, somehow or another we’ve got too much biomass....The costs are enormous. I think it’s safe to say that neither agency nor industry capacity seems adequate for the scale of work needed.”

Tree Thinning And Forest Management:

Others at the hearing included Nancy Fishering of the Colorado Timber Industry Association. In her prepared remarks, Fishering stated Colorado has 22.6 million acres of forest, a third of which has 'considerable health issues.' She says the solution to the growing wildfire threat are changes in policy and financing [.pdf].

"We have a big problem...and we need big solutions. I've been dismayed over the years. I've been in the industry since the early 90's -we haven't done big huge policy changes yet. We keep tinkering, and I think it's to the point hopefully after this year, we actually grab it, figure out the finances, get the right people to the table, and make some of these policy changes. "

Other panelists echoed the call for additional funding of mitigation efforts as well as a renewed focus on public engagement and creating 'firewise communities' [.pdf].

In his closing remarks, Senator Udall recognized a loose coalition of U.S. Senators currently working on forest health. He added the group could be formalized with a set of principles and proposals that included many of the ideas discussed during the hearing.