Tipton introduces measure to address wildfire danger

WASHINGTON – As the state reels in the aftermath of multiple fires, Colorado’s congressmen are scrambling to pass legislation to reduce the chances of future burns.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, has introduced the Healthy Forest Management Act of 2012, which would give state governments more control over thinning forests in high-risk areas, removing dead trees and those affected by bark beetles.

“Wildfire has taken a devastating toll on communities, the environment, wildlife habitats and water supplies in Colorado and across the Western United States,” Tipton said in a news release. “This legislation treats the bark beetle epidemic, drought and other conditions that have made our forests highly susceptible to wildfire.”

High-risk areas are any public or national forest lands currently or likely to be affected by bark beetles, drought or otherwise deteriorating forest health conditions, according to the bill. These areas can be designated by either state or federal governments.

Tipton staff members emphasized the importance of giving states the power to designate high-risk areas and develop plans for mitigating the danger.

Though the bill has measures to protect water resources, wildlife and their habitats, the government could subcontract projects to for-profit loggers. The bill specifies that projects to remove wildfire fuel may not involve clear-cutting.

The Healthy Forest Management Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and DougLamborn, joins multiple other forestry provisions in the Farm Bill, which passed the Senate in June and now is in the House.

Last month, Tipton opposed an amendment by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, to a Republican public-lands bill that would have allowed the federal government to contract with states to remove beetle-killed trees.

The Herald previously reported that Tipton switched his vote on the amendment, which died in the House June 19, from “aye” to “no” with less than a minute left in the roll call. Tipton wrote in a joint statement that Perlmutter’s amendment was a “cheap political move.”

Tipton did not comment on why he changed his vote at the last minute.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is pushing the House Committee on Agriculture to approve the state delegation’s contributions to the Farm Bill. Hickenlooper emphasized the need for Tipton’s bill to focus on areas closest to homes and businesses.

“Because our most urgent need is around communities, we suggest revising this concept to define ‘critical areas’ as those exclusively within the wildland/urban interface,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to the committee. “This would allow for a focus of scarce resources to the areas that are most critical – near homes, communities, and water facilities.”

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will discuss Tipton’s bill Friday.

Rachel Karas is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at rkaras@durangoherald.com.