McInnis forges agreement on "Healthy Forests’ initiative
SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, has reached a bipartisan agreement on his “Healthy Forests” initiative he says is among the most important reforms to forest policy since Theodore Roosevelt created the national forests system nearly a century ago.
House and Senate conferees approved the agreement late Thursday. It now goes back to each chamber for final approval, which is expected in the days ahead.
If approved, it will allow communities to thin trees in forests to protect against catastrophic wildfires.
Opponents of the original bill said it didn’t sufficiently allow for thinning in the so-called “red zone” surrounding communities and water supplies and that it was little more than a handout to the timber industry.
But numerous changes have been made to the bill that has won over detractors, including Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, who represents Summit County.
“It looks like something Congressman Udall will support,” said Udall’s press secretary Lawrence Pacheco. “It’s been significantly improved over what the House passed earlier this year. It has some problems, but it’s definitely better than the House bill.”
Among the improvements Udall supports is that 50 percent of the funds – $760 million a year – will be used for work in the red zone, National Environmental Policy Act procedures will be streamlined without gutting environmental laws and the bill will protect old growth and large trees.
“It’s probably the best we could expect from this particular administration,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, chair of the Sierra Club’s Blue River Group in Summit County. “It sounds like a huge improvement from where we were before.”
For the past several weeks, McInnis and co-author Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., have been working to find agreement with key senators, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
They reached a final agreement late Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and toil in this bill,” McInnis said. “This agreement would have never materialized but for the hard work and good faith of a few of us who threw partisanship out the window and focused on the daunting risks facing our forests and communities.”
Opponents say the plan still does little to reduce the risk of wildfire, removes citizen participation, interferes with the judicial system and increases commercial logging.
Udi Lazimy, a regional program director for the American Lands Alliance in Boulder, said the bill will only provide thinning projects on federal land, and often, that land doesn’t abut communities.
Also, he said, proponents have even boasted that the initiative is an “important bill for the forest industry” and is a “common sense approach to make sure we can build the roads we have to build so this industry can start to come back.”
“That’s a far cry from reassuring communities that help is on the way,” Lazimy said.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or
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