A Western emergency

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This epidemic, combined with prolonged drought conditions, warm temperatures, and unnaturally dense forests, has created prime conditions for the type of devastating wildfires that we have seen rage across Colorado this year, and over recent decades. So far this year, 220,728 acres have burned in Colorado, and in 2002, the state’s worst year 619,000 acres burned.
 
Our firefighters and emergency responders have done a great job in defending communities and property from these fires, as well as limiting the damage to natural species habitats and water supplies. We are all grateful for their quick action and dedication under dangerous conditions.
 
While the response by emergency personnel in putting out fires has been strong, federal efforts to responsibly manage our forests and prevent the conditions for such fires have been feeble due to an unwieldy regulatory framework that systemically hampers progress toward healthy forests. It’s long overdue that the federal government addresses these issues and stops standing in the way of active forest management, instead empowering states to proactively take action to restore forests to healthy conditions and reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire.
 
With the support of my Colorado colleagues including Reps. Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman as well as Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), I have introduced a piece of legislation to address forest health in the most comprehensive way possible.
 
The Healthy Forest Management Act of 2012 (H.R.6089) increases state control over forest management decisions in high-risk areas on National Forest Service lands and lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. It empowers governors, like Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, in consultation with county commissioners from affected counties as well as affected Indian tribes, to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects for those areas.
 
With increased local control, states can better protect their communities, species habitats, water supplies, and natural areas with preventative action to mitigate the conditions that lead to unhealthy forests and devastating wildfires. Written with a conservation focus, this legislation aims to restore forests to healthy conditions, curbing the spread of bark beetle, protecting the natural environment, and limiting the dangerous conditions that have fueled our state’s most devastating wildfires. Additionally, it upholds all valid and existing rights on applicable lands and preserves the current protection framework for wilderness areas and national monuments.
 
This bill is the result of more than a year of committee work, meetings with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, and Congressional hearings on forest management, including a hearing that took place earlier this year in Montrose, Colorado.

In all of these cases, I received a united message that more needs to be done to manage our forests.
 
We are optimistic that the Healthy Forest Management Act will move quickly through the House of Representatives with a broad base of support, and it’s already making its way through committee. By allowing states to play a larger role in addressing this emergency, we can more proactively manage our forests, prevent future destruction from wildfires, and promote a healthy natural environment.
 
Tipton represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional district.