KUSA - Two preventable factors have conspired to make major wildfires more dangerous in Colorado and other western states: properties with overgrown with vegetation, and densely overgrown forests around neighborhoods.
In an effort to curb the latter problem, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) is promoting the idea of funding more project work to thin forests.
"If we want to be able to protect these brave men and women on the fire line, let's get in and help treat these forests," Tipton said.
Amid a fire season that killed a hotshot crew in Arizona and homeowners in Colorado, Tipton says he wants to push the US Forest Service to re-prioritize.
Citing concerns over the national debt, Tipton says his plan calls for no new spending, but he has identified $60 million which the Forest Service intends to use to acquire new lands.
He feels it would be better spent on lands the agency already has.
The hope is that ramping up prevention will save money long-term by reducing the nearly $2 billion annual cost of fighting wildfires.
Dr. Lloyd Burton of CU Denver says this principle is sound, but argues that there's so much overgrown forest that a bigger investment is needed.
"I'd say that we need probably twice the investment that we're making right now," Burton said.
The price tag for that would run close to $250 million, a tall order amid the budgetary stalemate in Congress these days.
Still, the issue of forest management is on voters' minds in a way it's never been before.
Tipton's bill also includes provisions that are bound to meet more controversy, including giving Governors more authority to designate federal lands that need fuel treatment, and the ability to skip environmental studies on fuel reduction projects that are designed to protect areas within 500 feet of certain types of buildings and infrastructure.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)