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MEEKER I Congressman Scott Tipton lent a sympathetic ear to environmental concerns voiced by board members of the White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts on Thursday.
Tipton (Rep.-Dist. 3) met with members of the conservation districts at the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center focusing on issues pertaining to sustainable forest management, feral (wild) horse overpopulation and severance taxes.
He also took a tour of the center, accompanied by the districts’ board members and Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jeff Eskelson.
One of the talking points presented by the districts stated that millions of acres in Colorado and Southwest Wyoming forests are dead due to beetle kill. Research done by the conservation districts had four findings:
1.No statistical difference exists between the percent of cut stock yield from green living trees and beetle-killed trees that had been standing dead for up to nine years;
2.Tree diameter, not the time spent standing dead, is more significant a factor to consider with cut stock yield;
3.There is a sense of urgency due to blowdown;
4.Increasing utilization of beetle-killed trees – to reduce forest fuel loads produce wood products sustainability for market while lessening the taxpayer burden – would provide the greatest return on public investment while improving public safety.
The boards requested that Tipton support active forest management and policy changes to ensure a long-term timber supply for industry.
Tipton acknowledged the concern and said those same issues are a concern for the lumber mills in his home area around Cortez.
“We are seeing a slow-moving trend toward allowing more trees to be taken,” Tipton said. “We need to do something or the forests will just explode in fire. There is a growing awareness toward long-term plans to cut timber, and we have to assure that movement continues.”
He said he recognizes that the forests have many dead trees and that fire safety issues already exist, and that if done correctly the harvesting could be done without hurting the forests and, in fact, benefit the health of the overall forests.
“When I return to Washington, I will speak with those I need to speak with, and perhaps we can get some more rapid movement,” Tipton said. “The forests will certainly gain in the long run, and timber mills can benefit from knowing there will be a long-term supply available.”
The board members also voiced concern about wild horses and the problems that exist now and are likely to increase in the near future.
While Colorado’s feral herds are within the hoped-for Bureau of Land Management guidelines of 1,000 wild horses in the state, there are 11,000 excess horses running wild throughout the nation’s ranges; there are currently 50,000 horses in holding facilities; and more than $43 million of taxpayer money goes to feed those 50,000.
The districts requested of Tipton, “We need your leadership to remove the following language from the Interior (Department’s) appropriations language: Appropriations … shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau (of Land Management) or its contractors for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”
The districts also want the BLM to manage the horses according to the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, that horses be restricted to the designated herd management areas and that excess horses be removed from the range to keep numbers within BLM-determined appropriate management levels.
Tipton acknowledged the two sides of the issue, which are the landowners’ and the BLM’s wish to lower the herd numbers due to damage the herds are doing to the open range, while there is also a large faction that doesn’t want to see the horses removed or killed in bringing the herds down to the numbers deemed manageable.
He said that the BLM is holding herd roundups in “emergency only” situations and that the herds are going to continue growing if nothing is done.
“I completely understand the concern, and if there is a good birthing season even in Colorado for the next few years, the herds will continue to grow here past accepted numbers,” Tipton said. “Something has to be done, and while it may not be popular in some circles, the use of these animals’ products for commercial use may be good for business and may be one way to address the issue.”
He said he would take the concerns back to Washington and meet with BLM officials on how the problem can be handled in a way that will help resolve the issue without ruffling too many environmental feathers.