Northwest Colorado alliance calls on Congress to restore forest funding

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily

FRISCO — With one of the worst wildfire seasons in state and national memory continuing to unfold into the fall, local legislators in northwest Colorado are pleading federal representatives to push Congress on restoring funding for U.S. Forest Service districts with forestland in their counties.

The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments sent Sens. Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner as well as Reps. Jared Polis and Scott Tipton a letter last month urging the Colorado delegation to put pressure on the rest of Congress to restore funding that has been slashed over the past few decades.

The council represents Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and five counties, including Garfield, Jackson, Eagle, Summit and Pitkin.

The U.S. Forest Service funding cuts have coincided with worsening wildfire seasons and drought. The fires have shifted a large amount of resources away from other important Forest Service duties, such as forest management and seasonal ranger patrols, which are meant to prevent forest fires.

“The escalating cost of fighting fire has imperiled the operational effectiveness of the USFS in recent years and impaired the organization’s ability to manage the national forests as premier public assets and multi-use natural resources,” the letter said.

Aside from fires, national forests also are dealing with a huge increase in visitors every year. White River National Forest, outside Aspen, sees 15 million visitors a year including skier visits, making it the most visited national forest in the country. In 2008, White River National Forest had seven full-time seasonal employees but has only a single full-time seasonal ranger this year. The funding for the district has been decimated from $270,000 in 2008 to $40,000 throughout the same decade.

“It is distressing that the No. 1 most-visited national forest in the nation, which sends $24 million in revenues from skier area fees annually to the federal government, can only afford to fund one seasonal ranger to manage one of the busiest recreation programs in the country,” the letter said.

The letter points out how local towns and counties have been spending their own money to pay for federal employees to work the forests due to a lack of federal funds. The letter states that this “bake sale” approach to funding forest service rangers is unsustainable.

“These communities will always be good neighbors (to the forest service), but as markets rise and fall, it cannot be said for certain whether such financial capacity will continue,” the letter said.

The letter ends by imploring Colorado’s federal representatives to advocate with the congressional appropriations to restore funding to five key management areas, including Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, Pike and San Isabel National Forest, Gunnison National Forest and White River National Forest.

The letter also urges the Colorado delegation to consider amending or replacing the Ski Area Retention Bill with a broader solution, as it is not enough to keep up with the increasing demands on local resources.

“These lands are enjoyed by people from across the country,” the letter said. “A well-funded forest service is a federal responsibility.”


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