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Op-ed: Teamwork needed to protect forests, watersheds

Active forest management needed to protect water supplies

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A beetle-kill forest clear cut near Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

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Colorado State Forester Mike Lester.

By Mike Lester

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to reduce the risk and impacts of catastrophic Western wildfires was signed last week in Fort Collins. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was good news for anyone who cares about the health of our forests, pays a water bill or worries about wildfires.

The Colorado State Forest Service is proud to be part of a similar local partnership that is being viewed as the first of six WWEP pilot programs in the West to improve forest and watershed health, and help mitigate wildfire risk. The Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado and Big Thompson rivers in Northern Colorado. Partners include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

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Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

The most anti-environmental budget ever?

GOP aims to slash spending for public lands, environmental programs

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Rhetorical GOP attacks on public lands and the environment culminated this week in a proposed budget that would slash funding for public lands management and environmental programs.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Given the vapid rhetoric from House GOP leaders the last few years, a full frontal assault on public lands was inevitable. It came this week, in the form of proposed massive budget cuts for public lands and environmental programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Overall, the interior funding bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee this week cuts $5.5 billion — 19 percent — from Fiscal Year 2013 levels, covering the Department of the Interior, the EPA, the Forest Service, and various independent and related agencies. Continue reading

Forest Service grants help design biofuel energy projects

Trees cleared during wildfire fuel reduction projects can be turned into fuel pellets, Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Trees cleared during wildfire fuel reduction projects can be turned into fuel pellets, Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Grant program has helped pay for forest wildfire fuel reduction projects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For all its dead lodgepole pines, Colorado was shut out of the latest round of grants awarded by the U.S. Forest Service for wood-to-energy projects, touted as a way to expand regional economies and create new jobs.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the $2.5 million funding push last week. “These grants help grow new jobs, support clean energy production and improve our local environments, especially in reducing fire threats,” said Tidwell. “Communities from Massachusetts to Alaska will benefit from the program this year.” Continue reading

Federal wildfire budgets need a makeover

Congress makes bipartisan push to reform funding for prevention

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators says the Forest Service must find a better to allocate funds for firefighting. Cutting money for wildfire prevention leads to spiraling costs for firefighting and ultimately increases the size of fires, the senators wrote in a June 28 letter to cabinet members.

The letter requests the administration to create an action plan to fully fund prevention efforts such as hazardous fuels reduction, in addition to fire suppression efforts. Currently, the administration takes funds from other non-fire programs to pay for fire suppression costs – a practice called fire borrowing. Continue reading

Congress sets hearing on public lands ‘pay-to-play’ fees

Summit County hiking Colorado

Congress will take input on the controversial federal pay-to-play program this week.

Critics say loopholes enable federal agencies to charge illegal fees

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The federal pay-to-play program will get a once-over in Congress this week, as a House subcommittee hears from agency officials and citizens before the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act expires next year.

At issue are how the fee program for access to public lands is being implemented by federal agencies. The hearing is set to start at 10 a.m. EDT and should be available as webcast via the House Committee on Natural Resources website.

The access fees started in the late 1990s as the so-called fee demo program, enabling federal land agencies to charge fees as long the money was used to improve the area where it was collected. Continue reading

Environment: Can wildfires affect climate?

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A new U.S. Forest Service research paper outlines how wildfires can affect climate. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Smoke particles can cool ground temperatures and suppress cloud formation

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with resulting in huge on-the-ground disturbance, wildfires also have an impact in the atmosphere. With wildfires expected to increase in a warming world, U.S. Forest Service researchers recently set out to document what some of those effects might be with a synthesis of recent research, focusing on the effect of emissions from wildfires on long-term atmospheric conditions.

“While research has historically focused on fire-weather interactions, there is increasing attention paid to fire-climate interactions,” said Yongqiang Liu, lead author and team leader with the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science. “Weather, the day-to-day state of the atmosphere in a region, influences individual fires within a fire season. In contrast, when we talk about fire climate, we’re looking at the statistics of weather over a certain period. Fire climate sets atmospheric conditions for fire activity in longer time frames and larger geographic scales,” Liu said.

Key findings included:

  • The radiative forcing of smoke particles can generate significant regional climate effects, leading to lower temperatures at the ground surface.
  • Smoke particles mostly suppress cloud formation and precipitation. Fire events could lead to more droughts.
  • Black carbon, essentially the fine particles of carbon that color smoke, plays different roles in affecting climate. In the middle and lower atmosphere, its presence could lead to a more stable atmosphere. Black carbon plays a special role in the snow-climate feedback loop, accelerating snow melting. Continue reading
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