Udall to enviros: Keep the faith on logging bill | AspenTimes.com

Udall to enviros: Keep the faith on logging bill

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall assured environmentalists that he didn’t turn his back on them recently when he supported a bill to increase logging in national forests to improve fire safety.

Udall surprised many Colorado environmentalists in early October when he supported a logging bill proposed by Republican Congressman Scott McInnis of Grand Junction.

The bill ? labeled the Healthy Forests and Wildfire Risk Reduction Act ? was approved by the House Resources Committee by a 23-14 vote. Udall was part of a bipartisan coalition that sent it to the House floor. The bill hasn’t been voted on yet by the entire House.

Environmental groups opposed McInnis’ bill because they claim it limits their ability to review and appeal logging projects too severely and allows too much logging in forest interiors.

The environmental groups are often at odds with McInnis. They consider Udall one of their staunchest allies, so they were unsettled by his support of the legislation.

But Udall said his relationship with environmentalists shouldn’t change due to his position on the McInnis bill. He said he felt it was important to keep debate going on the bill and advance it from the Resources Committee to the House floor.

Once there, he plans to offer amendments that he said will make better legislation.

“I’m not about to support a bill that’s a Trojan Horse for logging interests,” Udall said.

He would like to see more federal funds devoted to thinning trees and brush in the “red zones” ? the forests on the edge of towns and populated areas.

In its current version, the bill would make about $7 billion available for forest thinning projects around the nation over the next 10 years. About 70 percent of the funds would be earmarked for the so-called “red zones.”

Udall said he also will work to make sure the rights of all people to comment on proposed logging projects are preserved under the National Environmental Protection Act.

McInnis contends he isn’t trying to limit comment but merely improve a process that moves too slowly.

“The process that governs management of our forests and rangelands simply moves too slowly given the massive wildfire threat hanging over us,” said a position paper supplied by McInnis’ office.

He contends that projects are delayed unnecessarily even when they pose no threat to forest interiors. Environmentalists counter that McInnis is just trying to make it easier for the U.S. Forest Service to approve logging projects everywhere ? under the guise of improving fire safety.

Udall stated that Congress must act soon to improve the fire safety of the lands closest to populated areas. “To not do something in the short term is irresponsible,” he said.

Udall is seeking re-election in an expanded district that now includes Eagle County. The 2nd District now includes the middle Roaring Fork Valley thanks to redistricting. McInnis’ district will continue to include Garfield and Pitkin counties.

Udall, a Boulder Democrat, is facing a challenge from Sandy Hume, a Boulder Republican.

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