Forestry legislation aims to fund firefighting efforts, protect homes

Decades of eco-terrorism have effectively shut down our national forests from responsible management. The result? Now there are 6 billion standing dead trees in the West that create a tinderbox 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 2015-20, the departments of Interior and 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 also is 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, causing significant economic harm to local communities on the Western 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.

Read Lauren’s full op-ed at Aspen Daily News

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