Gibbs' forest restoration bill passes House committee

Gibbs' forest restoration bill passes House committee

BY NICOLE FORMOSA
Summit Daily News
Summit County, CO Colorado
February 7, 2007

DENVER - A bill proposed by State Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, that would create a pilot program for forest restoration projects cleared a hurdle in the House Wednesday afternoon.

The Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee passed the freshman representative's bill in a unanimous 11-0 vote.

Gibbs said Wednesday evening that he was "ecstatic" at the outcome of the hearing, particularly since he has put so much focus on bringing forest issues to the forefront.

"When people think of The Beatles they're no longer thinking of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, they're starting to think of the bark beetle problems we're facing in the High Country," Gibbs said.

If House Bill 1130 is signed into law, the state would contribute $1 million per year for the next five years to fund cost-sharing grants for forest restoration projects on private, federal, state, county or municipal lands affected by the mountain pine beetle.

The money would come from the operational account of the severance tax fund. Projects would need to address objectives like reducing the threat of wildfires, preserving old and large trees and replanting trees in deforested areas.

Gibbs purposely scheduled Wednesday's hearing to coincide with the release of the Colorado State Forest Service's annual report on the health of the state's forests.

The report says that Colorado is experiencing the largest mountain pine beetle outbreak in its history with 660,000 infested acres, compared with 500,000 infested acres in 2005.

"There were about four times as many recently killed trees per acre in 2006 than 2005," the report says.

Gibbs also touted the diverse support for his bill - representatives from the Colorado Timber Industry Association and The Wilderness Society, an environmental protection group, both testified in support of his legislation.

"I've never, ever seen two very different groups support a wildfire bill like this," he said.

Howard Hallman, Dr. Don Parsons, Sandy Briggs and Brad Piehl from Summit County's Mountain Pine Beetle Task Force made the drive to Denver to show their support, as well did the mayor of Leadville and an Eagle County commissioner.

Parsons spoke to committee members about the number of local reforestation projects on the table that are stymied by a lack of funds.

"The thrust of my statement was Summit County put $50,000 on the table for local projects last year and will do the same or more this year," Parsons said.

Gibbs' bill heads to the appropriations committee next, where it will stay until at least early March when projections come in for funds in that account.

Gibbs acknowledged that there will be stiff competition for the money in the severance tax fund, but said he hoped his bill would have an edge because it passed committee unanimously.

"I think that that's a strong statement," Gibbs said.

Also on Wednesday, the entire general assembly passed a joint Senate resolution, sponsored by Gibbs on the House side, requesting that the Forest Service and BLM work to implement up to three long-term stewardship contracts in the state.

Those contracts should address forest conditions in the High Country, Front Range and Southwest regions of the state to emphasize community protection, forest resilience and provide locally based economic opportunities.