Gems proponents should drop attacks on firefighters |

Gems proponents should drop attacks on firefighters

Aspen, CO Colorado

We’re all for vigorous debate on issues of importance to the Roaring Fork Valley, but some of the recent statements regarding the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal have been out of line.

Recent letters to the editors of local newspapers from Gems proponents have questioned the motives of Basalt firefighters for opposing Wilderness designation for part of Basalt Mountain. The letter writers question if the firefighters are using their public positions – and funding – to pursue private battles.

We believe the firefighters deserve better. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson is a proven, dedicated public servant. We believe he is sincere in his concern over how Wilderness designation on Basalt Mountain could impede his department’s ability to keep the town of Basalt and surrounding development safe in the event of a catastrophic wildfire.

Thompson and others with the fire department contend that the Wilderness designation would add a layer of bureaucracy to responding to a lightning strike in the deep timber of the mountain. When time is of the essence, they don’t want to appeal to the U.S. Forest Service’s regional forester in Denver to use fire trucks or specially equipped six-wheel-drive vehicles to get firefighters in place.

The Basalt Fire District’s board of directors listened to Thompson’s concerns and voted April 15 to spend up to $50,000 to commission a study of the types of trees and vegetation on Basalt Mountain, forest health, slopes and possible fire behavior. Once the study is complete, the results will be presented to the public and policy makers. The intent is to get 12,570 acres on Basalt Mountain removed from the Hidden Gems proposal.

Hidden Gems proponents have criticized the fire district for spending public funds on a “public relations campaign.” The fire district views its action as defending its firefighting capability.

We understand that Hidden Gems proponents disagree with the fire district. They feel the way to deal with wildfires is by making property owners responsible for creating defensible space around their homes, and they don’t feel creating Wilderness on Basalt Mountain will impede firefighting.

Gems proponents should stick to their policy arguments and debate this issue on the merits.