Outdoor industry leaders anticipate a boom in outdoor recreation in the Pikes Peak region this summer as the nation emerges from the pandemic. However, they are concerned that the increased use of local parks, trails, and open spaces could pollute the environment, especially without sufficient funds to combat them, they told U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) On Thursday.
As local coalitions come together to reduce the risk of forest fires, restore water catchment areas, and preserve parks and open spaces across the region, they face challenges in funding and planning to contain them, members of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance said at one Meet the Senator at Bear Creek Regional Park in Colorado Springs.
“Our challenge here (is that we have) almost too much of a good thing,” said Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition and a member of the alliance. “We have so many beautiful places to hike, to explore, where we can relax. Everyone out there wants what we have, so they’re from Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas. I think we will see record numbers again this summer, which is good for the economy. But it pollutes the environment. “
With more federal funding, outdoor recreational organizations could better contain environmental threats and take the pressure off the national forest service, which is understaffed and, until recently, was forced to spend more than half of its budget on fighting forest fires instead of funding the cost of fighting forest fires Attenuation, said Bennet.
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He discussed how his bipartisan Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act could help. The bill is co-funded by US MPs Jason Crow, D-Colo. And Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and is included in President Joe Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion American employment plan that puts the risk of catastrophic land at risk Forest fire is lowering to protect Colorado’s watershed and stimulate the economy, Bennet said.
“There has been such profound underinvestment in our national forests for so many decades,” he said. “With climate change, we are seeing the devastation caused by the forest fires that we are having. Its duration, its intensity is nothing like we have seen before. “
Bennet’s $ 60 billion bill would provide funds to federal and local authorities to collaborate on mitigation projects rather than paying “the incredibly expensive cost” of fighting fires across the state, he said. It costs about $ 1,500 – a number that outdoor industry leaders said Thursday was likely conservative – to treat an acre of National Forest but $ 50,000 to fight a fire on the same acre, said Bennet.
“Fire has no political jurisdiction and it takes all of this collaboration to get the job done,” he said.
Although $ 60 billion is a significant amount of money, what it needs is what the country needs to catch up a decades-long backlog on fire fighting and water catchment restoration projects, Bennet said. It’s also roughly the same amount spent every four or five years to fight the forest fires, he said.
Curbing forest fires in national forests requires “an appropriate investment” from the federal government, he added. National forests are critical infrastructure, as are highways and tunnels, and if forests are damaged or degraded, everyone is affected, he said.
“Everyone downriver from Colorado has to take care of it, and there are a lot of people downstream from Colorado,” said Bennet.
Members of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance welcomed the bill but were concerned that it would not fund treatment of roadless areas or wilderness.
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“This is a concern for many of us because so much of our wildlife and so much of our water catchment areas and recreational facilities are there. They are also the areas where fires break out, ”said Becky Leinweber, executive director of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance.
In addition, federal funds are sometimes subject to significant restrictions, including the fact that they cannot be used to feed or house members of the organizations doing the containment work, Alliance members said. These restrictions make it difficult for mitigators to complete their jobs and they need to find other sources of funding to fill the gaps, they said.
Bennet said the feedback he received from the group was helpful, and he took notes throughout the meeting to refine the calculation.
“These are bills that are not written in Washington, DC. They are written around picnic tables like this one,” he said.