Sen. Bennet visits Grand, touts proposed bills to support natural resources
Standing at the Grand Lake border to Rocky Mountain National Park against the backdrop of burnt trees and scorched land, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet spoke to local land management leaders about preparing for the upcoming fire season and how new legislation may buoy those efforts.
On Tuesday, Bennet toured a handful of sites highlighting fire mitigation and recovery, including the Mueller Ranch in Grand Lake, which exemplifies how land management can help mitigate fires.
The Muellers partnered with Northern Water and Grand County for the Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps private property owners implement protection from flooding, sediment or debris flows.
The property sits along the North Inlet Creek abutting the national park, where the burn scar is severe. On the Muellers’ property are new growth pine trees and a ground clear of dead debris, while the park is littered with mostly blackened beetle kill trees in various stages of standing.
Bennet is co-sponsoring the MATCH Act, a bill that supports the Emergency Watershed Protection program by giving the Natural Resources Conservation Service the power to reimburse private landowners and counties for watershed protection projects.
“Absent (new legislation) we’re going to keep dealing with fires the way we have been, which is just not working,” Bennet said. “Grand County can’t protect itself.”
Though the Muellers are concerned about watershed impacts, their property didn’t reflect the more severe damage of the East Troublesome Fire. That’s partially because around a decade ago, the Muellers had cleared their property. When the East Troublesome Fire stormed through the area in October, that mitigation was crucial.
The second site Bennet visited, the Blue Ridge Prescribed Burn area outside Hot Sulphur Springs, also showcased the importance of land management, particularly prescribed burns and fuel removal.
“(Land management) has been a priority for a long time, but I think we have now the opportunity to put some money on these landscapes and in the forests,” Bennet said. “We’re going to spend the money one way or another, so do we want to spend it fighting fires or doing mitigation and watershed protection? I’d rather do the latter because it builds a better economy.”
The other piece of legislation Bennet spoke about, the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, would dedicate $60 billion for forest and watershed restoration projects in high priority, high risk areas.
Currently, the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which faces an uphill battle through Congress. Bennet said he plans to show his Senate colleagues the realities on the ground in an effort to convince them of the importance.
“These national forests and our watersheds are as important, if not more important, as any of the major highways,” Bennet said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people back East to visualize what this looks like and how critically important these headwaters are.”
Grand County faces elevated flood risk for the next several years and it’s important to be prepared.
A quarter inch of rain per hour or more could be of significant concern. If you can look uphill from where you are and see a burnt-out area, you are at risk.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
• Turn around, don’t drown: Even a small amount of water is enough to sweep you or your vehicle off the road. If you come across a flooded area, turn around and go another way.
• Watch or warning? A flood watch means flooding or flash flooding is possible in your area. A flood warning means a flood or flash flood is occurring or will occur soon in your area.
• What should I do? Identify at least two safe ways out or your neighborhood should you need to evacuate. When a flood or flash flood warning is issued for your area, head to higher ground and stay there.
• What do I do after a flood? Return home only when officials have declared the area safe. Do not use water the could be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.
• Emergency alerts: Sign up for CodeRED to receive timely alerts for your location by going to http://www.co.grand.co.us/193/Sign-Up-for-Emergency-Alerts.
• More information about being flood ready is available at http://www.co.grand.co.us/1355/Fire-and-Watershed-Recovery.
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After their soccer game Saturday, the Grand County Wildcats suited up for a very different type of game.