President Signs Forest Legislation

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On Wednesday, President Bush signed a Colorado Congressman's Healthy Forest Restoration Act into law. This, after weeks of devastating wildfires on the west coast. "We will help to prevent catastrophic wildfires. We will help save lives and property. And we'll help protect our forests from sudden and needless destruction," said the President.

The measure gives timber companies leeway to thin out dense underbrush that acts as kindling during a fire. As a compromise, Congress is requiring that at least half of all thinning projects take place near residential areas.

The new law could help finance and speed up restoration in the Pike National Forest here in Colorado. The U.S. Forest Service plans to thin out more than 45,000 acres there this year. Much of the work borders residential areas where overgrowth fueled the Hayman fire.

Thinning is well underway at the Bear Mountain Project southwest of Sedalia. "This year, we have scheduled 15,900 acres of mechanical treatment and prescribed burns in the Pike National Forest with available funding," said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Terry McCann.

The Forest Service spent $4 million on fuels reduction this year in the Pike National Forest. But its plans are often slowed by environmental challenges. They say the healthy forest restoration act will speed things up. "It allows the process to be streamlined so we can take away obstacles to that planning," said McCann.

Environmental groups argue the new bill will leave “old growth” forests unprotected. They're also concerned about equipment and roads going into the back country.