Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Gov. Bill Ritter and a group of bipartisan lawmakers today announced the "Healthy Forests/Vibrant Communities Act of 2009," a comprehensive legislative proposal that would protect Colorado's prized forestlands, assist local communities and stimulate economic activity.
"Colorado is home to nearly 23 million acres of forests – forests that are rich with diverse wildlife, clean water and unbelievable scenery," Gov. Ritter said. "These forests also are a major part of Colorado's economic engine. They drive our recreation and tourism industries, and can produce valuable materials for the timber, construction and renewable energy markets.
"But our forests are at grave risk," Gov. Ritter said. "They are at risk from pine beetle and other insect epidemics. They are at risk from drought, climate change, wildfire and development. And these risks threaten not just our forests, but also Colorado's communities, economies, air quality, water supplies and wildlife."
The proposed Healthy Forests/Vibrant Communities Act, to be introduced for consideration in the upcoming 2009 legislative session, will help mountain and Front Range communities plan for forest health management activities, provide funds to reduce wildfire risk,  protect watersheds, water and power infrastructure, and encourage business opportunities for wood-products entrepreneurs.
The Act would include multiple pieces of legislation, providing:
·         Resources and technical support to ensure that local communities can adequately assess wildfire risks and create effective response plans.
·         Additional support to reduce imminent threats through thinning projects focused on protecting lives, homes and community investments such as reservoirs, power lines and other infrastructure.
·         Increased focus on long-term restoration projects in community watersheds to protect public water supplies and create high-quality wildlife habitat.
·         A revolving loan fund to support businesses and create jobs by finding new ways to market timber and other wood products generated by community protection efforts.
The Act would build on legislation that Gov. Ritter signed into law the past two years. It also would incorporate ideas from the Forest Health Advisory Council that Gov. Ritter established earlier this year and from an interim legislative committee that met this past summer and was co-chaired by state Rep. Christine Scanlan and Sen. Dan Gibbs.
The Act would be funded with $5.5 million in FY09-10 with the Severance Tax Operational Account, which derives its revenues from the tax that oil and gas companies pay to "sever" or extract energy resources in Colorado.   
"As a wildland firefighter, I'm grateful that we dodged another bullet and escaped a potential catastrophic mega-fire this season," Sen. Gibbs said. "This proposal will help make our communities safer by reducing the fire threats from dense stands of trees – especially those that have been killed by the ravaging bark beetle."
"We've worked very hard the last two years to educate the public about the bark beetle scourge and to address the problem as best we can with our limited resources," Rep. Scanlan said. "We've been as creative as possible. But creativity and luck just aren't enough. We must overcome the threat of devastating wildfires that may jeopardize the region's infrastructure, wildlife, communities and economies."
In 2007, travel and tourism spending reached a record $9.8 billion in Colorado, generating $763 million in state and local tax revenues. A 2007 study found that travel spending supported more than 203,000 jobs in Colorado.
Nearly a decade into the pine-beetle epidemic, 1.5 million acres of mature, high-country lodgepole pine forests have been killed. Forest health experts say up to 2.2 million more acres of mixed conifer forests will be impacted in the coming years.
"Colorado's forests are vital to our environment, to our communities, to our economy and to our overall quality of life," said State Forester Jeff Jahnke, the director of the Colorado State Forest Service and co-chair of the Forest Health Advisory Council. "Our forests help define our state.  But the forests we know and rely on for so many things are in trouble. It's important for all of Colorado that we do whatever we can to address this problem."