2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Wildfire legislation: A wrap-up

    Tue, July 30, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Two Colorado senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, have been pushing legislative action on wildfire prevention and recovery. Here’s a wrap-up:

    • Sen. Udall and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, proposed on Monday legislation that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work proactively with communities on wildfire mitigation projects. The bill would make Colorado, Oklahoma and other states eligible for an additional 15 percent of FEMA funds for wildfire mitigation–the funds would come from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which currently only funds wildfire suppression. The bill also place wildfires on par with other natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
    • Sen. Bennet and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, proposed an amendment on July 25 to a Congressional plan to test drone-technology in several states. The Federal Aviation Administration is already working with Congress on six test sites around the county, where unmanned aerial systems, or drones, can be used. Bennet and Flake asked that two more test sites be added specifically for Colorado, for testing drone technology on wildfire detection and firefighting. Read this article for more information about the ideas behind drones and wildfire.
    • Sen. Bennet and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have introduced a measure into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that requires FEMA to put together a report on its wildfire mitigation projects, as well as identify any obstacles to funding those programs. A 2007 study of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation program sets very little funding aside for wildfires.
  • Wildfire bills pass Colorado Senate, House

    Thu, May 9, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Three bills meant to blunt the force of catastrophic wildfire in Colorado have made it through the state Senate and House, and now await Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature. Here’s a round up of all three.

    Senate Bill 273

    This bill made it through the Senate last week and targets the Colorado State Forest Service, and how the agency interacts with community wildfire protection plans and the disposal of biomass.

    The forest service is already actively involved in both of these things–the bill would made some subtle changes. I am still waiting to hear back from the forest service regarding the fine print changes to what they do.  Currently, the forest service must sign off on any community wildfire protection plans.

    The bill suggests that the forest service and communities do a few other things to manage wildfire risk, according to bill documents:

    • encourages “the use of forest biomass for energy generation and material for forest industry development will
      reduce the risk of future catastrophic wildfires, benefit the state’s economy”
    • “directs the state forest service to collaborate with federal agencies to facilitate the use of forest biomass as feedstock for timber mills and other industries and for renewable energy generation”
    • “encourages a community that adopts or updates its community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) to incorporate, as part of the

      CWPP, a biomass utilization plan developed in consultation with the state forest service”

    Read the entire bill.

    Senate Bill 270

    This bill focuses on reallocating state funds to help with a wildfire disaster. It would allow the governor and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to move money from the Disaster Emergency Fund to the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund during a wildfire emergency.

    Read the entire bill.

    Senate Bill 269

    This bill would set up a grant program to fund fuel reduction projects. The grant program would give up to 25 percent of the funds needed for each project. All told, $10,300,000 would be set aside for the grant program.

    Read the entire bill.






  • New bill addresses role of state forest service in wildfire mitigation

    Tue, April 30, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    A new wildfire-themed Senate bill that seeks to involve the Colorado State Forest Service in biomass and wildfire plans passed the State Senate on Monday.

    The bill, Senate Bill 273, was sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass. Here’s the wrap-up the senator’s office provides of the bill:

    • Directs the Colorado Forest Service to work with federal departments to facilitate the use of forest biomass at timber mills.
    • Directs the Colorado Forest Service to assist neighborhoods in high risk areas with their community wildfire protection plans.
    • Requires the Air Quality commission to analyze equipment fueled by biomass
    • Creates eligibility for bonding with the Water Resources Power Development Authority up to $50 million for timber and biomass related industrial development.

    The question is–how would this bill change things for the state forest service? The agency is currently involved both in using forest biomass–dead trees, slash piles, anything that’s a result of forest work--at timber mills, said Ryan Lockwood, a spokesman for the agency. For communities with land in the state forest service territory, the agency must sign off on the community wildfire protection plans for them to be approved.

    Lockwood said officials will have to look at the bill’s exact language to see what’s new, or different, about it. I hope to have more details about that soon.

    In the meantime, the bill was introduced in the State House on Monday, and was moved into the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee for consideration. It must pass that as well as two more readings before it becomes law.