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Bennet launches tour to back billions for boosting watersheds, mitigating wildfires

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August 25, 2021, 8:26 am
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, right, and Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead discuss the Outdoor Recreation Partnership Act at Denver’s Confluence Park on Aug. 24, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet visited Denver’s Confluence Park on Tuesday to launch a multi-stop tour in support of legislation that would funnel billions toward federal, state and local efforts to mitigate wildfire risk and protect vulnerable watersheds throughout the West.

Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would allocate $40 billion to be used by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies for “restoration and resilience projects” on forests and grasslands and another $20 billion to be granted directly to state and local governments for similar efforts. The funding would help cover a backlog of projects aimed at reducing fire risk by thinning trees, creating fire breaks and other risk-mitigation strategies, as well as helping recovery efforts in burned areas.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead and other local officials joined Bennet on the banks of the South Platte River on Tuesday, highlighting the risks that wildfires, which have been made more frequent and destructive by climate change, pose to water supplies. Post-fire debris flows like the ones that have shut down Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon for long periods this summer can threaten the health of watersheds relied on by utilities large and small across the mountain West.

“I don’t think it’s too much to say that Colorado’s entire economy, our entire way of life, is being threatened (by climate change),” Bennet said.

Bennet was scheduled to hold events touting the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act in Clear Creek County, Grand County and Steamboat Springs later on Tuesday, his office said. The tour aims to build support for the legislation in advance of Senate budget negotiations in the coming weeks and months, with Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package likely offering the best chance for the bill’s passage.

A separate forest restoration proposal sponsored by Bennet was previously included as an amendment to the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate last month. That measure, which must still be approved by the House of Representatives, would allocate a total of $900 million between now and 2030 to mitigate fire risks on forests and grasslands — but Bennet said that figure is only a fraction of what federal agencies need for restoration efforts nationwide.

“The Forest Service tells us they need $3-to-5 billion every year for the next 10 years,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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