Washington D.C. (KELO AM) - A bipartisan and bicameral group of western lawmakers pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partner with the timber industry to reduce wildfire risks in fire-prone areas, create jobs and improve community safety throughout the Rocky Mountain West. U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) led the letter, which was signed by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).
"The National Forest management program in this region falls far short of meeting the need for hazardous fuels reduction and forest restoration. ... There has never been a better time to foster industry partnerships that will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, restore forest health, and create sustainable rural jobs," the letter reads. "That is why we ask for your renewed commitment to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration in the Rocky Mountain Region - particularly in the wildland-urban interface and in backcountry areas supporting critical infrastructure and water supplies. Specifically, we ask you to consider increasing the investment in restoration and timber management, and continuing to pursue operational efficiencies."
Congressmen Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) also signed the letter.
The bipartisan coalition sent a similar letter last year pressing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to partner with the private sector to treat "more acres in our states - particularly in the wildland-urban interface, and backcountry areas with critical infrastructure."
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and most of South Dakota and Wyoming, experienced 2,482 fires so far this year. These wildfires scorched 230,526 acres.