President to sign forest protection, wildfire order on Earth Day

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A section of forest burned by the East Troublesome fire south of Grand Lake on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. The fire started Oct. 14 near Hot Sulphur Springs but blew up late last week and burned all the way northeast to the outskirts of Grand Lake.

President Joe Biden will mark Earth Day with an executive order to protect America’s old growth forests and boost wildfire resilience. The effort comes on a day when much of eastern Colorado is experiencing Extremely Critical fire conditions, a dire and seldom used level of risk.

Senior administration officials said the steps taken in the executive order build on the “investments and strategies” the USDA and Interior Department are already deploying to reduce “serious wildfire risks.”  

The order will start by inventorying old growth forests on federal lands, which senior administration officials say is key to maintaining healthy forests and helping to combat climate change by absorbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The survey is expected to take at least a year to complete and then the DOI and USDA will develop new policies “framed around mature and old-growth trees, and safeguard them.”

The Biden administration is also calling for enhanced coordination between federal agencies, tribal nations and private landowners to better work together on wildfire reduction efforts.

The executive order follows efforts to direct more federal money toward dealing with the West’s increasingly severe and year-round fire seasons. 

In Boulder last week, Forest Service Chief  Randy Moore announced $131 million for wildfire risk reduction treatments in eight states, including along Colorado’s Front Range. The bipartisan infrastructure bill provided $8 billion for forest and land management activities and mobilized $5 billion for hazardous fuels reduction. It also increases federal firefighter pay to $15 per hour.

The recently passed federal budget included $5.7 billion for wildfire management.

The executive order will advance forest-related economic opportunities at the local level, establish reforestation targets, and boost federal cone and seed collection capabilities to help re-plant areas destroyed by wildfires.

It will also include steps to combat global deforestation and climate change.