Vilsack on hand as Vail, Forest Service team up to clean up Hayman fire area

The state’s largest ski-resort operator will pony up three-quarters of a million bucks over the next three years to help restore forests damaged in the state’s largest wildfire – the devastating, 138,000-acre Hayman blaze of 2002.

According to Gov. Bill Ritter’s office, the project partners Vail Resorts – owners and operators of Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly (Calif.), and Vail – with the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy “to restore forest land, repair riparian habitat and protect watersheds within the massive burn area from the 2002 Hayman fire.”

The announcement, scheduled for this evening at 6:30 at the west atrium of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, will include Ritter, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Hayman fire, sparked by a disgruntled former Forest Service employee, is held up as a prime example of the need for better forest management practices to avoid future catastrophic wildfires, particularly in areas of Colorado’s national forests ravaged by an ongoing pine bark beetle epidemic that has killed upwards of 2 million acres of trees in the heart of ski country.

The Ritter administration has been pushing for a Colorado roadless rule that would allow for more road building on the state’s largely undeveloped national forests in order to thin out dead and dying trees near ski resorts, Front Range water supplies and other mountain communities.

At the very least, if the Obama administration adopts a national roadless rule closer to the 2001 Clinton roadless rule, Colorado officials would like to see it include provisions of the state’s rule.

Vail Resorts also announced on Monday that the company is dropping its three-year commitment to wind power because of the Hayman project. Its purchase of wind credits had made Vail Resorts one of the largest corporate buyers of wind energy in the nation, but not all conservationists are convinced renewable energy credits, or RECs, do much to bolster the nation’s clean-energy supply.

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