Scanlan/Schwartz: Protecting our forests |

Scanlan/Schwartz: Protecting our forests

by Sen. Gail Schwartz and
Rep. Christine Scanlan

Give a Coloradan the opportunity to speak of his or her favorite pastime, and you’d probably hear of a journey up the mountains to ski, a trip with the family to a state park, or of a leisurely afternoon fishing. We are proud of our state’s abundant natural resources and we are proud to protect integrity of those resources. Not only does our landscape present the chance recreate and relax, but more importantly it provides economic prosperity for the state.

As we drive over Berthoud Pass or along I-70, we see lush green pine forests, interspersed with smatterings of dead, decaying trees. In recent years, our mountain communities have been under attack by the pine beetle and Sudden Aspen Decline. These dead and dying trees pose a great threat to the health of Colorado’s water, landscape and economy.

In 2002, the Hayman Forest Fire in Southwest Colorado scorched 138,000 acres, causing $40 million in damages to property and watersheds, as the largest fire in state history. Not only does this disaster provide a sobering context to the catastrophic power of forests fires, but it serves as a forewarning for the potential for future fire outbreaks.

Currently, three million acres of dead lodge pole pine exist in the state, including the devastation here in our backyard. A Hayman-style fire in our area would have disastrous implications on jobs and tourism.

So working together in Denver, and with the support of local leaders, we convinced the state to reduce the amount of standing-tree kindling and to take immediate action to prevent fires.

Understanding the threat to our mountain communities, Colorado legislators acted swiftly to ensure the state is better protected thanks to Senate Bill 177.

This week in Vail, Governor Ritter will sign SB 10-177, which we sponsored with Senator Dan Gibbs. This bill addresses the consequences of our dead forests and promotes biomass energy. Chiefly, the bill will expand our renewable energy portfolio to include biomass, while greening our forests, helping our tourism industry and investing our timber industry.

Biomass or any organic matter can be processed into energy for heat, liquid fuels, or power generation. Downed or standing dead timber is a resource which can be combusted directly to produce steam or converted into a gas to power a turbine for electricity, and converted into a fuel oil substitute called bio-oil. In developing our own renewable energy sources, we are reducing our dependence on foreign oil and building our local economies. By example, the Town of Vail and Holy Cross Energy are considering a combined electricity and heat power plant.

SB 177 also streamlines government red-tape in order to promote a sound forestry industry. With SB 177, forestry equipment that is used to harvest woody biomass will benefit from the same tax exemptions that the agriculture industry receives, a necessary step toward promoting the growth in the biomass energy industry.

The Governor’s Energy Office forecasts that 200,000 new jobs will be created in the next 20 years from efforts in renewable energy industries, including biomass.

In signing this bill we intend to protect the tourism and the forests that made “colorful Colorado” famous, through good forest management. In 2008, the state’s travel and tourism industry produced nearly $11 billion, revenue critical to communities throughout the rural areas of the state. That $11 billion represents Colorado’s second leading economic driver and is a necessary factor in keeping our state’s budget balanced.

Tourism, timber, and energy are all key to our economy. By protecting our forests, we support industry and protect jobs. By helping the timber industry grow, we create jobs. And by making biomass a viable part of our energy portfolio, we grow jobs, support a new energy sector, protect our environment, and help our mountain communities thrive.

Rep. Christine Scanlan represents House District 56, which includes Summit County. Sen. Gail Schwartz represents Senate District 5, which includes Aspen and Gunnison.

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