Colorado Democrats press Forest Service for details on plan to spend $10B |

Colorado Democrats press Forest Service for details on plan to spend $10B

Routt County rancher says collaboration in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest could be model across West

The Muddy Slide Fire is seen from Hideaway Ranch off Routt County Road 16 in 2021. Democrats across Colorado are pressing the U.S. Forest Service for details about how the agency plans to spend $10 billion earmarked to improve forest health in the U.S.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Six Colorado Democrats serving in Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, Nov. 1, asking for more details how the agency plans to spend more than $10 billion, including Colorado’s initial allocation of $18 million.

The money comes from two laws, the bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed a year ago and the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August. While the Forest Service released a 10-year strategy to reinvest in forests in January, the letter presses the agency for more details about timing and specific use of the funding.

“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 reads.

“(The funding) represents a historic opportunity to address wildland fire and forest management across jurisdictions, at a scale commensurate with the West’s wildfire crisis,” the letter continues.

Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, as well as Rep. Joe Neguse and three other U.S. House representatives, signed the letter. Neguse represents Colorado’s Second Congressional District, which Routt County was moved into during last year’s redistricting process.

“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,” Neguse, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on National Forests, said in a statement.

The Forest Service’s plan in January said the agency would work to treat 20 million acres of National Forest and 30 million more acres of other federal, state, tribal and private lands.

Addressed to Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, the letter asks for details beyond those benchmarks, such as what funding might be needed to increase the agency’s workforce, how various landscapes will be prioritized for mitigation efforts and how the Forest Service plans to consult with other agencies and governments.

“Critical details about the timing and specific use of the funds remain undetermined,” the letter reads. “We appreciate your leadership in quickly laying the groundwork to allocate the historic new funding for forest health and management.”

In May, Pat O’Toole, whose ranch spans the Colorado-Wyoming border in North Routt County, told Routt County commissioners that land managers he had been talking to didn’t have the capacity to spend the money that has been allocated to them in these laws.

During that meeting, O’Toole, who is president of the Family Farm Alliance and a former Wyoming state legislator, stressed that cooperation at a variety of levels would be crucial to ensure the money allocated is having the desired effect.

In an interview on Tuesday, O’Toole said a collaboration he is part of called the Headwaters of the Colorado River has made specific proposals to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest leaders to “bring the forest into function.” He said this group could be a model for partnerships across Western forests.

“There is just so much of the forest that is down and not functioning,” O’Toole said. “There’s a really vibrant discussion, and it really is going to be will (the Forest Service) be able to start releasing more forests to manage for cleanup, regeneration of aspen, for water.”

O’Toole said, in his view, one problem preventing projects to promote forest health is that the large government bureaucracy has slowed since the onset of the pandemic. Still, he said local forest officials seem to be further along than most, and there are efforts across the West to “make things better.”

“The system itself is struggling, but I think there’s a real effort,” O’Toole said. “(Wildfires are) not what we want and it’s not good for climate and it’s not good for the forests, so working together to move forward is where we’re going to go.”

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