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Farm Bill programs cultivate healthy forests in Colorado

It is time for Colorado to voice support for investment in stewardship of forests and watersheds


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There is little denying that Colorado is an international hub of tourism and outdoor recreation, supported by world-class facilities, abundant opportunities and diverse landscapes – and that equates to big business. Outdoor recreation generates roughly $17 billion annually according to the state’s Office of Economic Development & International Trade. Some of Colorado’s greatest assets are its forests, which many are surprised to learn are a mix of both public and private lands.

In fact, 30 percent of Colorado’s forests are located on private lands – roughly 7.1 million acres. Private landowners play a critical role in ensuring these forests are healthy and resilient while providing communities with crucial benefits, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and more. In recent decades, private landowners in Colorado and throughout the West have taken initiative to restore forest health. But they can’t do it alone. Cooperation between the public and private sectors, economic drivers and supportive public policies at the local, state and federal levels, are key to their success.

For example, as summer approaches, many of us think of the potential devastation of forest fires. In many parts of the West, a 100-year national policy of fire suppression has resulted in overly dense forest stands with little rejuvenation and intense competition for water and light resources. Combined with past management decisions and a changing climate, this has led to forests across both public and private lands that are now highly susceptible to drought, disease, insect damage and catastrophic wildfires.

More than 800 million dead trees were recorded in the state of Colorado in 2016. 

Forest management, whether thinning small diameter trees or applying prescribed fire, can be extremely expensive and few options currently exist for landowners to offset that cost or offer economic return. With Colorado’s population expected to add 2.3 million more residents by 2040, today’s forest could become tomorrow’s subdivision.

It is imperative that Colorado’s forests are being effectively managed and remain healthy and productive for the rural communities who depend on them. Programs funded through the current Farm Bill and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) provide much-needed support for forest stewardship and conservation. In a time of shrinking budgets and amidst many competing priorities, investment in the care and conservation or our land and natural resources must remain a priority. These assets are the bedrock of our nation and of our children’s future.

With Congress already diving into 2018 Farm Bill discussions, and the Western Governors’ Association’s National Forest and Range Initiative underway, now is the time for Colorado to voice its support for investment in the sound stewardship of our forests and watersheds. 

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Lesli Allison

Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance. Created by landowners in 2011 to improve dialogue and increase the ecological health and economic vitality of working lands. WLA’s mission is to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. WLA members steward approximately 14 million acres of deeded and leased public land in the American West. Through policy reform and on-the-ground stewardship, they are working to protect land and wildlife, restore watershed health, maintain wildlife corridors, promote economically vibrant rural communities, and to keep working lands working.

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