'Lessons learned' 

Who better than local elected officials to help mitigate the wildfire threat on federal lands near urban areas?

That's the idea behind House Resolution 6089, introduced by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, on July 9, as the Waldo Canyon Fire was winding down. The fire, which began a few miles west of Colorado Springs on June 23, devoured more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 345 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people in the area of Mountain Shadows.

Tipton's bill, discussed at a July 20 hearing of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, calls for the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to work with states to address "deteriorating forest health conditions" due to bark beetle infestations or drought that cause imminent risk of devastating wildfires.

Under the bill, governors would consult with counties in designating high-risk areas for mitigation and management plans, a label that would last 20 years unless the governor cancels it.

"It's important for us at the local level to have some input into the high-risk areas we think affect our communities," El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark says. "We'd like to have a seat at the table as to mitigating our forests before they catch on fire. We should be pre-emptive to be sure forest management is at the top of the list to prevent a disaster like we saw over the last month."

In a July 24 letter to the subcommittee's chairman, county commissioners wrote, "There were many lessons learned from this disaster but one of the most painful is that the public lands which contribute so much to our quality of life also pose a substantial threat to public safety. Wildfire risks can and must be mitigated."

Three Colorado lawmakers — Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner — have signed as co-sponsors.

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