State considering forest health bill | AspenTimes.com

State considering forest health bill

Nicole Formosa
Summit County correspondent

Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Since the 66th General Assembly convened last week, legislators have introduced hundreds of bills, including one with potential to effect forest health in the Colorado mountains.

The bill, sponsored by both freshman state legislator Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, proposes creation of a pilot program for forest restoration projects in areas affected by the mountain pine beetle, including resort areas along the Interstate 70 corridor, where brown, beetle-killed trees are pronounced.

Here’s how it would work:

The U.S. Forest Service would solicit proposals for cost-sharing grants for experimental forest restoration projects on private, federal, state, county or municipal lands.

The state would contribute no more than 60 percent, or $1 million, of the total project cost.

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To be eligible, applicants have to be located in an area with an approved Community Wildfire Protection Plan (Summit County developed a plan in late 2005) and address objectives like reducing the threat of wildfires, preserving old and large trees, replanting trees in deforested areas and improving the use of small diameter trees.

Ideally, the state’s funds would come in the form of $1 million per year for the next five years from the operational account of the severance tax fund.

Gibbs, who asked his fellow legislators for support with a signature from a pen made with trees killed by the pine beetle, said he’s pleased with the bipartisan support that the bill has already garnered.

Of the bill’s 11 House sponsors, six are Republican and five are Democrat; of the four Senate sponsors, the political affiliations are split 50-50.

“I think what’s powerful is when you look at some of these names … you have both the committee chairs of the agriculture committee so that’s very important politically to have that support,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said a focus of his has been to bring the pine beetle problem to the forefront, even to legislators from more urban areas, by linking it to how a catastrophic fire could adversely affect the state’s watershed.

He’ll also have to tackle the funding issue.

“There is not money right now set aside for it and the challenging aspect is really working to bring this bill to be a major focus,” Gibbs said.

The bill has been assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, of which Gibbs is a member.

Gibbs is also sponsoring a bill that would create a non-native plant control fund in the state treasury to help eradicate non-native, or noxious, plants, like the tamarisk.

That bill would authorize the state’s department of natural resources to award $2.5 million a year in matching competitive grants to counties, municipalities and nonprofit organizations for riparian restoration efforts.

The money for the fund would come from the severance tax trust fund on July 1 of each year starting this year and ending in 2010.

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