Colorado Democrats urge Forest Service to create spending plan for $10B in funds

Letter sent to Forest Service chief seeks answers on how funding will be allocated

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams and other forest personnel stop at the Hanging Lake rest area to assess progress of the Grizzly Creek Fire on the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. In recent years, Colorado has endured the largest and most destructive wildfires on record, which is why legislators say the U.S. Forest Service must move quickly in coming up with a plan to allocate new funding streams available to the department for forest health and restoration projects.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The U.S. Forest Service has a lot of money coming its way from recent legislation including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, but specifics on how to spend that money have yet to materialize.

With that in mind, Sen. Michael Bennet, along with Sen. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, Jason Crow, Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette, issued a letter to the Forest Service on Tuesday urging Chief Randy Moore to help determine how the $10 billion in funds should be allocated.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continues to deliver for the people of Colorado and for our communities impacted by the recent surge of wildfires across the West,” Neguse said, in a release. “This significant increase in funding will protect the families, businesses and communities most threatened by these disasters, which is why it is critically important that the Forest Service implements these programs swiftly.” 

The letter is addressed to Chief Randy Moore and says forest health is of critical importance in Colorado, where the largest and most destructive wildfires on record have beset the state in recent years.

“As climate change intensifies the frequency and severity of wildfires across the West, it is imperative that the Forest Service move expeditiously to allocate the new funding,” the letter states. “The $10 billion in combined funding from the Infrastructure Law and the IRA represents a historic opportunity to address wildland fire and forest management across jurisdictions, at a scale commensurate with the West’s wildfire crisis, through shared priority setting with States, Tribes and other partners.”

The Forest Service has already begun the process of developing a framework for the implementation of the funds by releasing a 10-year strategy in January.

But that’s a high-level overview that doesn’t drill down into specifics as much as the lawmakers would like to see.

“Critical details about the timing and specific use of these funds remain undetermined,” according to the letter, “including the initial $18 million of Infrastructure Law funds allocated to Colorado.”

The lawmakers said they are seeking answers to the following questions:

  1. Methodology used for determining goals for treated acres and High-Risk Firesheds;
  2. A comprehensive planning, to include estimated acres analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act, and implementation timeline for the 10-year strategy, including interim milestones;
  3. Funding required to implement the 10-year strategy, including any workforce development needs beyond new funding in the Infrastructure Law and IRA;
  4. Identification of comprehensive benchmarks of success for forest health, wildfire
    management, and community safety, extending beyond acres treated;
  5. Timing for the identification and prioritization of additional landscapes beyond those identified as initial landscape investments for treatment, as well as their corresponding funding needs and required NEPA analysis;
  6. Clarification of how the USFS plans to analyze, prioritize and treat landscapes that it did not identify as priority firesheds, such as Western Colorado, but that still require critical restoration work; and
  7. Avenues for formal consultation and collaboration with State, Tribal and local governments, as underscored in both laws. Programs like the Good Neighbor Authority and Shared Stewardship Agreements have proven successful and should be used to implement the IRA and Infrastructure Law funds.

“We appreciate your leadership in quickly laying the groundwork to allocate the historic new funding for forest health and management in the Infrastructure Law and IRA,” the letter concludes. “We are also pleased that critical forest treatments are underway in the initial landscapes chosen for investment in Colorado. We welcome a meeting with USFS to discuss the issues raised in this letter and request your staff provide quarterly briefings on the implementation of new forest-related provisions in Colorado.”

The full text of the letter is available at

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