Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse, Polis ask feds for wildfire recovery help

Colorado’s U.S. senators, a congressman and the governor are urging the federal government to hurry up with recovery payments from the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires.

The two fires burned a combined 400,000 acres in 2020 and are the No. 1 and No. 2 largest wildfires in the state’s recorded history. They’ve also left correspondingly massive burn scars that threaten watersheds and increase the risk of mudslides during downpours.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, all Democrats, were planning to send a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on Monday asking for quicker distribution of recovery money and to expedite permitting for local recovery efforts.

“Two years after the largest wildfires in our state’s history, it’s unacceptable that the affected communities are still fighting for the funding they need to restore forests and watersheds,” Bennet said in a statement.

The letter calls it “imperative” for the Forest Service to start distributing $50 million already set aside for recovery efforts in the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest. It also notes that local agencies estimate a $228 million shortfall to remediate hundreds of thousands of acres of fire damage in the forest.

Polis’ spokesperson, Conor Cahill, said the governor plans to bring up the issue directly with federal officials when he’s in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association meeting this week.

Both fires were in Neguse’s district, which was also Polis’s when he was in Congress before his 2018 election to the governor’s office.

“Watershed recovery is vital for the health and well-being of Coloradans, and the consequences of the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires require urgent action,” Neguse said.

Hickenlooper said in a statement that “wildfires keep threatening communities long after the flames go out. Whether is mudslides after heavy rains or the risk posed to our drinking water, we have to keep up our recovery efforts.”

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