After Colorado faced its worst fire season on record in 2020, freshman House Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., introduced legislation to mitigate wildfires, as the West grapples with devastating burns, heat waves and drought.
The Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act would pay for the removal of trees killed by bark beetles and establish Forest Reserve Revenue Areas to sell timber.
Boebert, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in an interview with The Durango Herald that the bill would require the U.S. Forest Service to harvest a minimum of 6 billion board feet of lumber annually.
The logging would reduce wildfires and costs of wildfire suppression while protecting nearby communities, a strategy that federal agencies have failed to recognize, she said.
“That is a flawed approach, which causes us to spend billions of dollars on the back end to suppress fire, neglecting fire prevention and putting our communities at increasing risk of catastrophic fire,” she told the Herald.
Twenty-five percent of logging revenue would be retained locally. The bill also would make it harder for groups that oppose forest thinning to take legal measures.
Local funding through timber sales is part of Boebert’s effort to “put rural communities first.” She said she developed the bill to benefit rural communities because state and federal legislation often does not.
Coloradans witnessed the state’s most active fire season in 2020, when fires burned for a total 100 days and scorched more than 600,000 acres. Three fires set records as the state’s largest fires.
In 2021, firefighters are battling several blazes in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, according to the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map.
“It’s a very big issue that impacts our daily lives here,” she said. “Look at your commute to work, or to church or to the other side of the state. We have unhealthy forests that are unmanaged, which causes a tinderbox for fires.”
The congresswoman led 16 colleagues in introducing the bill, including fellow Colorado Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn. All co-sponsors for the legislation are Republican, which could make advancing the bill difficult in a Democratic-majority House.
Boebert said Democrats are “very supportive until it comes down to actually doing work” and refuse to work with Republicans. If the bill stalls, Boebert said she would file a discharge petition to bring the proposal out of committee and to the floor for consideration.
“I'm not opposed to working with anyone and everyone to advance policies that actually work for the people, actually benefit our communities,” she said.
She has also spoken to Democratic Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet in developing the bill, she said.
No conservation or environmental experts were consulted in crafting the legislation. Boebert likened them to “extremists who don’t want to touch the land or interfere with the land.”
“Aren’t we all, are we all environmentalists and conservationists?” she said in an interview. “That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to be good stewards of the land.”
The bill is supported by several Colorado and national organizations, including the American Loggers Council, the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and several commissioners in Montrose, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.
Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.