STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
|Bills Addressed: ||Action Taken:|
|Remarks from the Chair|
Summary of Funding for Wildfires and Forest Health
Summary of Timber Industry and Forest Health Legislation
Past Legislation Concerning Forest Health and Wildfire Preparedness
Committee Discussion on Draft Legislation
|Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only|
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
09:47 AM -- Remarks from the Chair
The commission was called to order. A quorum was present. Senator Roberts, Chair, provided some opening remarks about the work of the commission. She recapped the commission's activities to date, discussed the charge of the commission, and discussed remarks made at the commission's August 22nd meeting. Senator Roberts discussed work performed by outside groups and individuals in assisting the commission in its activities, and reiterated the charge of the commission. Senator Roberts then discussed the agenda for the day's meeting.
09:56 AM -- Summary of Funding for Wildfires and Forest Health
Mr. Henry Sobanet, Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, and Mr. Bruce Eisenhauer, Executive Director, Department of Local Affairs, provided a summary of federal and state funding for wildlife response and forest health in Colorado. Mr. Sobanet provided a perspective on how wildfire funding is coordinated, including an overview of the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund, which is a holding account with an annual appropriation for the purpose of funding the first two days of wildfire fighting. Mr. Sobanet discussed the State Disaster Emergency Fund , which is separate from the Tabor Emergency Fund, and discussed how the fund is used. Mr. Sobanet then discussed funding available for forest health initiatives. Mr. Eisenhauer provided an overview of the Wildfire Preparedness Fund, and the uses of the money in the fund.
Mr. Eisenhauer continued to brief the commission on the Wildfire Preparedness Fund, explaining how revenue accrues to the fund. Commission members received a flow chart on the distribution of federal mineral lease collections in Colorado (Attachment A). Mr. Eisenhauer responded to questions regarding the use of Wildfire Preparedness Fund moneys in energy-impacted communities, and the legislation that authorized federal mineral lease moneys to be used for wildfire mitigation. Mr. Eisenhauer responded to a question regarding the availability of Wildfire Preparedness Fund moneys for use by the Department of Public Safety. Mr. Sobanet responded to questions regarding the perspective of the Governor's Office on funding for wildfires and wildfire preparedness, and the potential for legislation to be introduced in the area of wildfire funding. Discussion ensued regarding potential funding for both proactive and reactive forest fire mitigation funding, including the state's role in these areas.
Discussed continued regarding potential funding for wildfire mitigation in the coming years. Discussion followed regarding the potential for seeking a greater share of federal mineral lease moneys to assist in funding forest health and wildfire initiatives. Mr. Eisenhauer responded to questions regarding the moneys from federal mineral lease collections that are committed to local government initiatives, as shown in Attachment A.
Mr. Eisenhauer continued to discuss local government initiatives funded with federal mineral lease moneys. Mr. Sobanet responded to questions regarding how Colorado ranks among the states in terms of emergency funding reserves, and the status of such reserves. Mr. Sobanet provided an overview of the use of the Capital Construction Fund and other funds as a mechanism to satisfy statutory requirements for funding reserves. Discussion ensued regarding funding for forest health initiatives in Colorado, and the various pieces of legislation adopted by the General Assembly to create and further such initiatives.
Discussion continued regarding forest health initiatives in Colorado. Mr. Sobanet responded to questions regarding requests for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) moneys by Colorado during and after wildfire emergencies, and efforts by Colorado to secure federal "Stevens Funding," which is used for forest health initiatives. Mr. Kevin Klein, Director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security Emergency Management Team, briefed the committee on efforts to secure FEMA moneys and other federal funding for recent wildfires.
The committee recessed.
11:10 AM -- Summary of Timber Industry and Forest Health Legislation
The commission returned to order. Senator Gail Schwartz provided a summary of Senate Bill 11-267, the viability of the timber industry, and legislation related to tax incentives for forest health and forest products. Committee members received a memorandum entitled "Colorado Tax Incentives Related to Forestry and Forest Products," prepared by the Office of Legislative Legal Services (Attachment B). Senator Schwartz discussed the efforts associated with the referenced legislation, including the work of the Forest Biomass Use Work Group (SB 11-267 work group). Senator Schwartz discussed the use of biomass as a renewable energy, and the reasons for convening the SB 11-267 work group. Senator Schwartz discussed reasons that the timber industry has suffered in recent years.
Senator Schwartz discussed the recommendations of the SB 11-267 work group, and certain economic incentives created by the General Assembly to support the timber industry. Senator Schwartz discussed recent developments in the timber and biomass industries in Colorado, and the ramifications of allowing felled trees to remain on the forest floor rather than removing them. Senator Schwartz responded to questions regarding the viability of biomass as a renewable fuel.
Discussion continued regarding the viability of biomass as a renewable energy, and its competitiveness with other energy sources. Discussion followed regarding the ability to reforest the Lower North Fork burn area, and resources available to homeowners to assist in this reforestation. Senator Schwartz responded to questions regarding community reaction to efforts to remove fuel build-up from neighboring forests, and the ability to remove such fuel from low-access areas.
Senator Schwartz returned to briefing the commission on the use of biomass as a renewable fuel. Discussion ensued regarding potential funding sources for forest health initiatives
01:32 PM -- Past Legislation Concerning Forest Health and Wildfire Preparedness
Mr. Alex Schatz and Mr. Raegan Robb, Legislative Council Staff, prepared a memorandum for the commission (Attachment C) and described their research on prior legislation concerning forest health and wildfire preparedness. Mr. Robb noted that the memorandum is divided into categories but that he would discuss the legislation chronologically. He began by discussing the creation of the Wildfire Preparedness Fund and the fund's use to date. Mr. Robb continued to discuss the Forest Restoration Pilot Program and the grants awarded under the program, as well as the authorization for Forest Improvement Districts.
Mr. Schatz explained that the Wildfire Preparedness Fund makes up the bulk of state funding for forest health. He described the income tax deduction for wildfire mitigation by property owners, the incentive program for volunteer firefighters, and the wildland-urban interface training fund. Mr. Schatz continued to discuss previous legislation, including bonding authority for watershed protection projects.
Mr. Robb explained that an interim committee was formed in 2009 to address wildfire issues in the wildland-urban interface. He discussed the legislation resulting from this interim committee. He explained the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans under 2009 legislation. He also explained the authority provided by legislation for local jurisdictions to raise levies for forest health. Mr. Robb continued to describe more recent legislation.
Mr. Schatz discussed 2011 and 2012 legislation, including the creation of the Forest Biomass Use Work Group and the consolidation of state homeland security functions under the Department of Public Safety.
Commission members commented on the memorandum and presentation. Senator Nicholson recommended additional research on 2011 legislation regarding pile burning. Senator Roberts noted that the commission has different reporting requirements than typical interim committees. Mr. Schatz clarified the commission's reporting requirements, which include the commission's findings and recommendations.
02:04 PM -- Committee Discussion on Draft Legislation
Senator Roberts called Mr. Paul Cooke, Interim Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, to testify regarding potential commission legislation. Commission members received a copy of his recommendations (Attachment D). Committee members also received some comments pertaining to potential legislation forwarded by Conifer resident Beth Semptimphelter (Attachment E). He discussed the transition of his division from the Colorado State Forest Service to the Department of Public Safety and explained his background in firefighting. He noted that mitigation and prevention are key to fire suppression. Mr. Cooke stated that his division lacks clear guidance or authority when it comes to prescribed fire. He suggested that his division be able to create a minimum standard for prescribed fires.
Mr. Cooke continued to explain his recommendations for legislation, including: requiring those conducting prescribed fires to be certified burners, adopting a state wildland-urban interface code, and creating a high-risk communities wildfire mitigation grant program.
Representative Gerou clarified with Mr. Cooke the components of a wildland-urban interface code, and she discussed the role of wildfire mitigation and preventing catastrophic fires. Mr. Cooke responded to these comments, noting that the state lacks a minimum building standard in the wildland-urban interface. He added that code standards should be part of a package that also addresses the need to remove existing biomass from the state's forests.
Representative Levy discussed the wildland-urban interface code and the development of rules regarding prescribed burns. Mr. Cooke described the potential benefits of developing specific guidelines for prescribed burns and the need to use the expertise in the state in the development of such guidelines. Senator Roberts and Mr. Cooke discussed prior bills whose authority is set to expire.
Mr. Cooke discussed the deduction for wildfire mitigation and the reasons why its benefits have been limited. He suggested that the mitigation grants might be more valuable if the two programs were to be ranked.
Ms. Lisa Dale, Assistant Director of the Department of Natural Resources, came to the table to discuss the Forest Restoration Pilot Program. She explained that the program was reauthorized as a permanent program and extended for five years, but that it depends on Tier 2 severance tax funding. Senator Roberts and Representative Gerou discussed the need for ongoing funding for wildfire mitigation.
Senator Nicholson discussed the value of grants versus tax deductions in encouraging individual homeowners toward fire mitigation. She and Mr. Cooke discussed broadening grant opportunities to communities for the implementation of mitigation efforts. Representative Gerou and Mr. Cooke continued to discuss the requirements of the wildland-urban interface code. Senator Roberts and Mr. Cooke clarified that the wildland-urban interface code would be optional, but that the state could provide incentives for counties to adopt the code.
Senator Nicholson and Mr. Cooke discussed firefighter training and preparedness exercises. Senator Roberts and Mr. Cooke discussed potential improvements to the state's 9-1-1 systems. Director Davis suggested that the state's Office of Emergency Management might be better able to address these concerns.
Mr. Kevin Klein, Director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, came to the table to discuss existing limitations of reverse 9-1-1 in the state. Representative Levy clarified the role of Mr. Klein's office in emergency communications. Representative Gerou and Mr. Klein discussed the timing of any recommendations made by the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Senator Nicholson and Mr. Cooke discussed Community Wildfire Protection Plans. Mr. Cooke noted that the plans remain the responsibility of the State Forest Service and explained that jurisdictions other than counties may choose to create their own plans.
Commission discussion on proposed legislation began. Representative Gerou recommended that the commission urge the immediate implementation of House Bill 12-1361, concerning Lower North Fork victims' compensation, a recommendation that does not require legislation. She added that many bill proposals could fit under a title regarding prescribed burns. Commission members discussed the following proposals:
Representative Gerou proposed that limits be placed on prescribed burns similar to the conditions that must be met for residential pile burns. This proposal was later withdrawn.
Representative Gerou proposed additional requirements for prescribed burns, including a go/no-go standard based on weather conditions, local notification of upcoming burns, and a way to include local fire chiefs in the burn planning. She clarified that many of these requirements could be achieved through rule-making, but that there could be ways to note particular concerns.
Senator Roberts proposed legislation recommended by Mr. Cooke, creating a state prescribed fire program administered by the Department of Public Safety. She and Representative Gerou considered the distinctions between this and previous proposals.
Senator Nicholson proposed the creation of an ongoing legislative oversight committee on wildfire issues. She clarified that this would be a standing interim committee.
Senator Nicholson proposed extending the Wildfire Preparedness Fund with a funding source outside of severance tax revenue. She suggested that these funds could be used for training exercises and other proposed needs. Mr. Alex Schatz, Legislative Council Staff, clarified that the Wildfire Preparedness Fund was funded through two fiscal years, expiring June 30, 2014. This proposal was withdrawn.
Representative Levy proposed creating a high-risk communities wildfire mitigation grant program.
Representative Levy proposed that the state create incentives for counties to adopt the wildland-urban interface code. She clarified that the code would be discretionary at the local level.
Director Davis proposed that legislation capture three main points proposed by Mr. Cooke: grant responsibility for regulating prescribed fires to the Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Prevention and Control; require certification for burners; and require a certified burner to be present during prescribed burns.
Senator Roberts proposed extending the income tax credit.
Senator Roberts proposed extending the bonding authority for watershed protection.
The commission recessed.
The commission returned to order. Discussion ensued regarding the ability to combine multiple legislative ideas into one draft bill. Discussion followed regarding the nexus between the proposals for legislation drafts and the charge of the commission, and the purpose of the commission's reporting requirement. Director Davis proposed a request for draft legislation concerning reimbursement of first responder agencies in a manner that allows for fast response during wildfire events. Committee discussion ensued concerning the potential for the commission to request an executive order from the Governor to implement the provisions of House Bill 12-1361. Senator Roberts recapped the proposed requests for draft legislation. Mr. Cooke explained that his department already has the statutory authority to implement one of Representative Levy's proposals, and responded to questions regarding the funding source for certain fire training in the wildland-urban interface.
Senator Roberts continued to recap the proposed draft legislation requests. Discussion ensued regarding the statutory cap on claims against the government, and the potential for drafting legislation to increase the governmental immunity caps. Discussion followed regarding the scope of such potential legislation. Discussion returned to the issue of requesting that the Governor implement HB 12-1361 through executive order. Discussion turned to the process by which draft legislation proposals are considered and approved, and the potential retroactivity of the proposal to remove immunity caps. Mr. Bo Pogue, Legislative Council Staff, provided some comments about the interim committee process.
The commission adjourned.