City sick over healthy forests bill |

City sick over healthy forests bill

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite opposition from Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof and the Glenwood Springs City Council, a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis to mitigate wildfire on federal lands was approved Tuesday by the House of Representatives by a vote of 256-170.

Vanderhoof and city council members opposed H.R. 1904, also known as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, in its original draft. Following a unanimous vote from City Council, the mayor wrote a letter to McInnis, asking him to amend the bill so that it would “ensure that federal dollars are being spent first and foremost on defending homes and communities.”

The bill, in contrast, allows the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to prioritize federal funds towards thinning operations on federal lands that are typically located deep in federal forests, far from populated areas.

McInnis, R-Grand Junction, and Greg Walden, R-Ore., are the bill’s chief sponsors in the House.

Glenwood Springs officials – as well as town leaders in other threatened mountain communities such as Basalt, Carbondale, Boulder, Nederland, Wheat Ridge, Golden, Silt, and the counties of Pitkin, Gunnison, Summit and San Miguel – want the bill to focus on Community Protection Zones. These are areas close to and in at-risk population areas.

Statewide, more than 30 Colorado public officials asked McInnis to amend the bill to address community protection.

“We’re most concerned with what’s going to benefit us immediately,” said Dan Richardson, a Glenwood Springs City Council member. “We all have firsthand knowledge of what can happen when wildfire comes too close to populated areas.”

Blair Jones, spokesman for McInnis, disagrees with this tactic.

“There are 190 million acres of federal lands at unnaturally high risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Jones said. “It only stands to reason that the first priority of federal land managers should be to manage at-risk federal lands. If these lands aren’t managed, all the prevention in the world on adjacent nonfederal lands won’t do a bit of good in the face of a Hayman- or a Missionary Ridge-type fire.”

But Richardson counters, “From my perspective, forest fires are nature’s way of maintaining ecosystems. I’m less concerned with natural fires that occur deep in federal forests than I am with areas bordering communities. We hoped the bill could be amended to allow money to be distributed to communities for fire prevention.”

Richardson said he can only speculate as to why the McInnis-Walden bill is focusing on federal forested land located far from populated areas.

“It’s my understanding thinning practices are usually conducted and contracted by timber companies,” he said. “I suppose it’s much more attractive for the federal government to focus on those areas than on privately owned land that borders communities.”

The Healthy Forest Restoration Act next goes before the Senate for its consideration.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.