Schwartz sponsors bill to help forests
DENVER – With wildfire season already in full swing across Colorado, the Forest Energy Jobs Act – introduced to the state Legislature on Friday by state Sen. Gail Schwartz – couldn’t be more timely.
“We are all well aware of the fire risks,” said Schwartz a Snowmass Village resident. “And while this has long been a concern for the Roaring Fork Valley, which has shown a lot of good thinking around the issue, we need to take a statewide approach.”
Senate Bill 180 does just this. According to Schwartz, the bill will create new jobs and promote Colorado’s forest health by encouraging and incentivizing the timber industry to remove diseased wood material.
As chairwoman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Schwartz has long seen the health of Colorado’s forests as a focal point. In 2011, she helped create the Forest Health Working Group, which was charged with coming up with recommendations for “legislative solutions to the state’s deteriorating forest health and increasing fire risk.”
According to Schwartz, more than 98 percent of Colorado has been designated in drought condition, and more than 65 percent of essential Front Range drinking water is at risk of fire damage. Thus, the Colorado Forest Energy Jobs Act will focus on prioritizing forest management in high-risk areas, creating renewable-energy enterprise areas and organizing a work group to study renewable thermal energies and the possibilities for further development of these resources.
“This bill will allow us to work on improving the health of our forests and foster job growth in the renewable-energy and timber industry,” Schwartz said in a prepared statement, adding that the “health of our forests is not just a rural issue because the more than 2 million people and nearly 900 communities at wildfire risk are located along the Front Range.
“As the recent tragedy in Jefferson County has shown us, we need to start actively improving our forests, protecting our watersheds and decreasing fire risk.”
Specifically, the act will require the Colorado State Forest Service to identify areas most in need of forest-management services and look for funding sources. The bill also will develop renewable-energy enterprise areas, which will be regions where tax credits and incentives will be provided to businesses converting woody biomass, made from timber, into an energy source.
Schwartz said she believes this is an important job-creating opportunity for Colorado’s rural communities. In fact, a biomass project is under way in Gypsum, along the Interstate 70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail.
“This is a huge success story,” she said. “Creating renewable energy is something we should all be concerned with.”
Senate Bill 180 is part of the Senate majority’s Colorado Works Jobs Package, a series of bills focused on continued job creation and economic growth in the state. This legislation will now be heard in the Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee.
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