Expand wildfire mitigation and funding


Christmas candy now sits on the store shelves instead of Halloween treats, so that tells me winter is on its way.

My hope is that we have snow and plenty of it, not just for a white Christmas, but I’m anxiously wishing for a deep snowpack and spring weather that doesn’t melt it too quickly.

I’m not trying to “borrow trouble,” but the threat of wildfires in Colorado goes unabated.  Our tendency to work hard to move past natural disasters like wildfires and floods is admirable, yet it comes at a cost if we fail to learn from those difficult experiences.

In both the wildfire matters and the water resources interim committees, we spent the fall months assessing what improvements can be made at the state level.  We’ve got some good legislative proposals to put forth in January to the full legislature, but none can control the weather and what Mother Nature has in store for us next year.

I’m most interested in seeing what we can do to improve forest heath in Colorado and that’ll take closer and greater collaboration with the federal Forest Service, given the large extent of lands under their control.  The exact shape this collaboration will take is still to be determined, but, across the state and forested public lands, local communities and state legislators like me are ready to get to work on this.

We already have some examples of this combination of local, state, and federal efforts, but they must be elevated and expanded if we are going to get ahead of the problem of diseased forests, ripe for fires.  Following catastrophic wildfires are dire flood conditions as watersheds are severely impacted by loss of live trees and now severely eroded soils.  We must more actively and responsibly manage our forests.

In the meantime, there are steps to take to expand wildfire mitigation and funding to shore up that area of firefighting and its workforce.  State funding of a stronger radio communications system for emergency management is needed and that’ll be a priority for me to work on next session.

There’s a rearrangement of committee assignments in the senate due to the addition of the two new Republican senators elected in the recalls this fall.  As a result, I’ll be moving to the senate agriculture, natural resources and energy committee and likely also back to the judiciary committee.  The agriculture committee assignment dovetails nicely with my interim committee work on water and wildfires.  I look forward to providing the views of my constituents to be considered in the formation of the Colorado state water plan, to be in first draft form by the end of 2014.

This reassignment means that I won’t be on the healthcare committee, although I’ll continue to work on those issues as well.  With so much happening with health insurance reform at the federal level, there’s little new to add to that conversation.  While the dust settles on the implementation of the federal legislation, I’m focusing on healthcare workforce issues as that has been, and will continue to be, a challenge everywhere.

The Colorado Youth Advisory Council moves into its sixth year at the legislature and I’m excited to continue as their legislator co-chair in 2014.  Their enthusiasm in highlighting Colorado youth concerns is refreshing, fun and inspiring.