As a native Westerner, I'm passionate about preserving our natural environment and quality of life. For generations, my family has hiked, skied and rafted many of Colorado's wild lands and rivers. I have a deep attachment to the West, its landscapes and way of life, and that is one of the primary reasons I sought public office.
As a member of the U.S. Senate, and previously the U.S. House of Representatives, protecting our natural resources has always been one of my top priorities. Along with my position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I chair the Senate's National Parks Subcommittee, which oversees legislation and other issues related to our national parks, including outdoor recreation, land use and historic preservation. These issues are vitally important to Colorado's economy and natural heritage, and my position gives me a powerful voice on important Colorado priorities.
In 2011, I successfully passed - and the President signed - a bill I've worked on for five years to allow summertime activities on ski areas on National Forest land. The act revises the 1986 law governing the permitting of ski areas on National Forests, clarifying that the U.S. Forest Service is authorized to permit year-round recreational activities where appropriate. It will increase opportunities for recreation in ski communities during the shoulder seasons, creating jobs and boosting local economies in Colorado and across the nation.
Another goal of mine has been full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress created LWCF in 1965 to protect and preserve open spaces for future generations of Americans. It is funded by a fraction of the royalties from offshore oil drilling. Although LWCF is authorized to receive $900 million annually, it is subject to congressional appropriations, meaning it has historically received significantly less. I have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would designate full and permanent funding, and I'll continue to push for passage.
Finally, I believe it's important to advocate for what is best for Colorado and our nation's natural resources by listening to all sides of the issues. That's how I've always worked, and I'll continue to build bridges across party and regional lines to get things done. Unless we find common ground on these often divisive issues, we can't enact successful federal policies that benefit Colorado's scenic beauty, its economy and its people.
Forest Management, Bark Beetles and Fire Risk
Colorado's economy, environment and water are all at risk when our forests are not healthy, and a special priority of mine is protecting Colorado communities from wildfire. I will continue to fight for adequate funding and policy changes to help our forest-management agencies protect our public safety, clean water, natural resources and local jobs.
In addition, as the mountain pine beetle epidemic continues to spread across our Western forests, it's clear that we need to address the problem more effectively. I believe we need to take action to protect our forests - as well as homeowners - from wildfire and beetle-weakened trees. I have led the effort to devote more federal resources to address this serious problem. And I've worked with Colorado's congressional delegation and others to look for creative solutions to better manage our forests and use dead and dying trees for other purposes.
I am also always looking for creative ways to support our forest-management industry, which is so important to rural communities. Most recently, I've seen how timber contract relief for our state’s few remaining sawmills, as well as encouraging more homebuilders to use beetle-kill in home construction, can help our state’s economy. In addition to employing hundreds of Coloradans, the mills play a crucial role in the fight against the bark beetle and wildfire by providing the infrastructure to help clear hazardous fuels and beetle-killed trees by processing them into wood products. I also think the new technologies that would create markets for beetle-killed wood and products from forest thinning projects in the wildland-urban interface hold a lot of promise. Improving the health of our forests will take a long-term effort, but we have an opportunity to address this problem and create jobs in the process.
Protecting our Public Lands
As an avid outdoorsman, I appreciate the need to respect and protect the land while also ensuring that the public can enjoy the resources and recreational opportunities it provides. Throughout my years in Congress, I have worked to balance these two needs. For example, I helped to establish new wilderness (James Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park) and wildlife refuges (Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) in Colorado. Throughout 2012 and 2013, I have led a collaborative, community-based process about how to create wilderness and national monument designations in two areas of Colorado — the Central Mountains (Summit, Eagle and Pitkin Counties) and Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River (Chafee County). Since then I have held numerous public meetings, worked with various stakeholders and received thousands of public comments to help ensure that our public lands continue to be one of Colorado's greatest economic engines.
In that spirit, I supported the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act. This law protects some of our nation's greatest treasures for future generations. It includes several provisions that I authored, making good on long-discussed efforts to preserve the Front Range Mountain Backdrop, resolving a Nixon-era promise for wilderness at Rocky Mountain National Park, and taking an important step toward protecting water supplies for the Arkansas Valley. The law represents 10 years of my work to bridge divides and work with people of all opinions. And on April 9, 2009, I proudly joined U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and several members of the Colorado delegation to dedicate the new wilderness area at Rocky Mountain National Park.
In 2011, I oversaw passage of a bill to help protect the community of Sugar Loaf, Colorado, from wildfire. The bill would ensure that the Boulder County fire district owns the land under two of its three fire stations by allowing a small land exchange with the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. This will enable the fire district to maintain and upgrade its fire stations serving the Sugar Loaf community and nearby properties at risk of wildfire.
I supported the creation of the Chimney Rock National Monument in 2012, which recognizes a unique Chacoan archeological site located between Durango and Pagosa Springs. This monument has broad bipartisan support from organizations across the region, including the Archuleta County Commission and the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.
I am continuing to work hard to protect Colorado’s special places. For example, I have introduced a new wilderness bill for southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Led by former Congressman John Salazar, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act was developed through many months of work with stakeholders to ensure a balanced proposal that safeguards some of Colorado's most beautiful sceneries while maintaining fair access for all land users. This was not a simple or quick process, but it is a model for how wilderness should be proposed, one I intend to use as I continue working to keep Colorado the most beautiful state in the nation for generations to come.
I introduced legislation that not only enhances how we manage forests and helps prevent wildfires, but also creates jobs in rural communities, by permanently reauthorizing stewardship contracting. This bill would allow the federal government to continue making long-term forest stewardship contracts - important public-private partnerships that keep our forest healthy, reduce hazardous fuel loads that contribute to mega-fires and support Colorado jobs. It will also promote the utilization of our state's forest products, such as timber and biomass.
Effectively fighting and containing wildfires before they become mega-fires is critical to protecting lives, homes, businesses and our most precious resource: water. I will do everything I can to ensure critically important resources are available for the upcoming fire season, and that we continue to actively manage and restore forest health across Colorado and the West. That is why I worked across the aisle to introduce and pass a bipartisan amendment to the Senate budget that increases the funding available for wildfire mitigation and firefighting by $100 million in 2014.
After leading an extensive public outreach effort, I introduced legislation to create the Sangre de Cristo National Historic Park, a designation meant to promote the untold history of the rich Hispano heritage in the San Luis Valley. By designating a network of individual sites along a common traveling corridor, this new park would foster public-private partnerships in historic preservation as well as attract visitors and create jobs in the small towns in this part of Colorado.
I am in the midst of a collaborative, community-driven process that I hope will ultimately allow Colorado to create legislation for wilderness and national monument designations in two very special places in our state – the Central Mountains (236,000 acres Summit, Eagle, and Pitkin counties) and Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River (20,000 acres in Chaffee County). By hearing your comments from the outset, I hope to develop a plan that a majority of the community agrees will support their interests and further develop Colorado’s booming recreation economy. If we do it in the right way — with a bottom-up rather than top-down approach — protecting public lands will support jobs, our economy, and the quality of life that makes Colorado the envy of the world. In order to facilitate the conversation with these communities, I've developed draft maps of possible wilderness boundaries, which will give us a firm base to compare notes and ideas. All of the maps are online at http://markudall.senate.gov/outdoorheritage, along with an e-mail comment form. I encourage you to share your thoughts about the maps, how the land is used today and your vision for the future of these special places.
I introduced the Sugar Loaf Fire Protection District Land Exchange Act to help protect the Sugar Loaf, Colorado, community from wildfire. The bill would ensure that the Boulder County fire district owns the land under two of its three fire stations by allowing the fire district to swap 5.17 acres of land in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest between the communities of Boulder and Nederland. The lands transferred to the federal government will become part of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest and managed accordingly, enabling the Fire District to maintain and upgrade its fire stations serving the Sugar Loaf community and nearby properties at risk of wildfire. The bill was signed into law by the President on Dec. 23, 2011.