Rep. Neguse calls for more wildfire mitigation resources to White River National Forest, other priority areas |

Rep. Neguse calls for more wildfire mitigation resources to White River National Forest, other priority areas

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily
A scene from the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon in August 2020. Rep. Joe Neguse is pushing for funds from the Infrastructure Bill to be allocated locally to prevent future incidents such as this fire, which has caused years of impacts to the area.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

While wildfire mitigation projects are considered one of the best approaches to preventing and preparing against increasing wildfire risk, these projects require a significant number of resources, including manpower, equipment, and, of course, funding — all of which can be challenging to secure and allocate.

This was the impetus behind a recent letter penned by Rep. Joe Neguse to the U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Frank Beum. Dated Sept. 21, 2022, the letter urges Beum to allocate wildfire mitigation resources from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the White River National Forest as well as the western portions of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in “recognition of their critical economic, ecological and social importance.”

“As you may know, these areas are home to the headwaters of the Colorado River, the most heavily traveled east-west interstate highway in Colorado, and some of the most-visited recreational resources in the country,” Neguse wrote.

“As the Upper Colorado region and our nation continue to endure the ongoing impacts of climate change, including historic drought and larger, more destructive wildfires, we cannot afford to delay robust investments in wildfire mitigation to protect this region’s many resources and values.”

Congress recently passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which among many things, earmarked $50 billion to “protect against droughts, heat, floods and wildfires,” according to a White House press release. According to the Forest Service, this included $3 billion granted to the department for hazardous fuels work.

“As you work to deploy $3 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to reduce hazardous fuels, restore forests and grasslands, and invest in fire-adapted communities and post-fire reforestation,” Neguse wrote in the letter.

According to the Department of the Interior, $103 million from the Infrastructure Bill is also specifically allocated in 2022 for wildfire risk reduction efforts and spent in the following ways:

  • $80.9 million to “accelerating the pace and scale of fuels management work”
  • $19.4 million toward “accelerating the pace and scale of the Burned Area Rehabilitation” to support post-wildfire landscape recovery
  • $3.1 million to support climate-related research.

The allocation of funds into these three buckets was driven, according to the department’s release on the fund distribution, by its Five-year Monitoring, Maintenance and Treatment Plan to address wildfire risk as well as the Forest Service’s 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy

“As the Forest Service determines the allocation of resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for high-risk ‘fire-sheds,’ Congressman Neguse is strongly advocating that the agency give priority consideration to the White River National Forest,” said a spokesperson for Neguse.

Neguse’s letter calls attention to several areas. This includes “high elevation forests in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” which he states are “perilously vulnerable to wildfire,” as well as the notable threat to land along and the infrastructure of Interstate 70.

“This summer, monsoon rains on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar have caused I-70 closures through Glenwood Canyon as often as four times per week, severely impacting local and interstate travel and commerce. It is imperative that we allocate sufficient resources to reduce wildfire risk in this vital watershed and transportation corridor,” he writes.

Additionally, Neguse references the ski areas that sit within the National Forest in Colorado. These areas “are not currently included in the initial landscape investments designated by the Forest Service.”

“These recreational resources serve as economic engines for the entire state, generating billions of dollars in annual economic output and tens of thousands of jobs,” he added.

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