In a statement today, RMFU President Kent Peppler, a Mead, Colo., farmer, urged Coloradoans to reflect on our disastrous summer wildfires.
The hearts of all good people ache for the folks who lost homes, property, and loved ones in these terrible fires, and for the firefighters who gave their lives. But we can honor those lives by addressing the serious problems that led to the fires and allowed them to rage uncontrolled for so long.
We’ve been told for about a decade that beetle kill in the mountains was a tinderbox sure to ignite, and the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires demonstrated how huge and how urgent a problem that is. We need state and federal action immediately to address clearing the deadwood from our forests. Our lack of will and procrastination have contributed to what is likely to be a summer of wildfires.
Our response to wildfires across the West has underscored the need to maintain our emergency response infrastructure. Since 2000, budget constraints have reduced the Forest Service’s fleet of firefighting planes from 43 to nine. With 500 homes destroyed and threats to the watershed that will take decades to address, that looks like a false economy.
Make no mistake, even if you couldn’t see the smoke, Coloradoans are all in this together when we lose thousands of acres to wildfire. The damage to the watershed will affect all of us for years. Ten years after the historic Hayman fire, restoration of the acres burned is still decades away, and meantime soil erodes into major water storage facilities like Denver’s Cheesman Dam. Experts estimate that the barren ground created by that fire is actually changing the weather patterns east of the site. Soil erosion, water contamination, and changes to the snowpack are threats to us all. Dollars invested in restoring our watersheds are an investment we should all support.