Beetle-kill wildfire bill moves on as Scanlan, Gibbs lobby feds

The biggest no-brainer piece of legislation the state’s 67th General Assembly will likely see this session, the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (or Senate Bill 1), easily passed out of the House Wednesday, even as its co-sponsor, Rep. Christine Scanlan (D-Dillon) headed to Washington seeking federal funds to combat the beetle-kill epidemic.

SB 1 directs the state forester to establish guidelines for communities in the wildland-urban interface to identify and mitigate fire hazards.

It’s not surprising that it’s moving on. What is surprising is that it’s taken some communities, surrounded by 2 million acres of dead and dying trees, this long to start planning. And that it takes the state Legislature to light a fire, so to speak, under some towns and counties.

The latest mountain pine beetle outbreak has been ravaging the state’s national forests since the mid-1990s, killing trees that are near the end of their natural life cycle and stressed by ongoing drought. Global climate change has chipped in with temperatures that haven’t dipped low enough in recent years to kill off the beetle’s larvae.

Now the state faces massive wildfire danger, which threatens the national power grid (because of transmission lines that crisscross national forests) and Colorado’s water supply (since wildfires choke reservoirs with debris and lead to erosion that clouds water with silt, clogging its flow).

Scanlan and fellow Democrat Sen. Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne) are meeting with federal officials this week to try to bring more attention (and funding) to the issue.

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