Udall backs Kerry’s forest plan
SUMMIT COUNTY – Firefighters and politicians threw their support behind a wildland firefighting policy crafted by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, saying it takes a common sense approach to protect communities from wildfires.U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, who represents Summit County, said the Bush administration has done little to implement fire protection strategies outlined in U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis’ Healthy Forest Restoration Act.”It’s easy to talk about making our forests healthy and improving our firefighting capacity,” he said. “But the Bush administration has largely failed to back up their talk with funding to do the job. Under a Kerry administration, I believe we will have the resources to make the Healthy Forest law a reality in the West.”The state of Colorado is no stranger to the devastation caused by forest fires. The fire season of 2002 represented one of the biggest the state faced in the past half-century, with more than 7.2 million acres burned and more than $1 billion spent to fight them.Summit County has managed to avoid such devastation – so far – and many communities in the county have begun fire mitigation efforts. But there have been at least three small wildfires this season, all of which were caused by kids lighting fireworks.”Although the Healthy Forests Restoration Act undertakes important forest management activities, it shunts too much fire protection funding away from forest communities and eliminates critical avenues for public participation,” Kerry said in a preface to his program. “In this time of escalating budget deficits, it is essential to direct every dollar where it can make the most impact in protecting lives, watersheds, communities and property.”If Kerry is elected to the highest office in the land, his administration would prioritize fire prevention in at-risk communities, said spokesman Steve Haro. According to Kerry, half of the Healthy Forest Act funds are spent on remote projects; his proposal would enact fuel reduction projects in areas where people live.Secondly, he would provide citizens with a voice in the processes that impact their communities and use National Environmental Policy Act protections while carrying them out. Some of this would be done through Forest Health Councils comprised of community leaders, tribal representatives, scientists, environmentalists, sportsmen and state and local officials.Kerry’s proposal indicates funding and tools will be given to community forest groups to implement fire management plans, and will promote education programs to enable communities to minimize their exposure to fire damage. It also involves the creation of cost-sharing and tax incentive mechanisms that encourage families to participate in the Firewise program, which provides resources and support to homeowners who engage in fire prevention activities. Kerry believes his plan will create forest restoration and fire prevention jobs by transferring $100 million of government subsidies from the timber industry and invest it in a new Forest Restoration Corps. He said his administration would promote the development of markets for small diameter trees, which represent the bulk of what is removed from the forest for fire mitigation. Kerry said he would support these with low-interest loans and cost-sharing partnerships. His administration would also give firefighters the budgets and tools they need to do their jobs.He also proposes to protect the nation’s remaining wild forests and support the Forest Legacy program, which encourages landowners to conserve forest resources.Kerry’s plan has been endorsed by 48 Nobel Prize winning scientists and is committed to restoring the role of science in forest management decisions, Haro said.
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