Hickenlooper, Neguse seek out science in mitigating wildfires, climate change

September 17, 2020, 9:17 am
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Grizzly Creek Fire in Eagle this summer.

While touring deadly wildfires in California on Monday, President Donald Trump told state officials pressing him on climate change that “it’ll start getting cooler” and “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Contrast that with Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – the congressman for the eastern third of Eagle County who was asked his fire philosophy during a recent transportation-infrastructure press event on Vail Pass.

“From my vantage point, we should follow the science, and we’ve actually had some really robust discussions and thoughtful debates in the Natural Resources Committee — specifically the Public Lands Subcommittee, about this precise issue,” Neguse said, expanding on his answer when pressed on the forest-thinning and “floor-cleaning” prescription Trump is promoting.

“Look, there is no panacea, right? I mean, to the extent that we want to ultimately solve this issue, the solution is bold, transformative policies that we pursue in the fight against climate change so that these fires are less common, but obviously from an adaptation standpoint, prevention, mitigation, and so forth, have to be a big part of the conversation,” Neguse said.

As Trump continues to hammer Democratic governors for failing to properly manage forests on federally owned lands that Washington controls, Neguse said the politics must be cut out of the conversation.

“I’m willing to listen and have a good-faith discussion with anybody who wants to work to try to reduce the impact and the frequency of these wildfires,” Neguse said. “But we’re going to have to start from the premise that we follow the science.”

Neguse’s Republican opponent, Dr. Charlie Winn, issued this email statement to RealVail.com:

“We deal with the reality on the ground,” Winn wrote. “Fire is caused by heat, fuel and O2. We can’t deal with the heat on the short term. So deal with the fuel. Proper forest management is needed in the short term. But the truth is the chaparral have been periodically burning for thousands of years. The giant redwood have the crowns high above the forest floor and have extremely thick fire-resistant bark. They evolved that way because of the frequent and period fires. Man is the interloper. So manage the forests! The wild land/urban interface requires constant management.”

Former oil and gas geologist turned Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is running for the U.S. Senate in part on a platform of promoting renewable energy and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“The last time I was at NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab [in Golden], 11 of the 12 models they had predicting climate change had an increasing rain shadow for most of Colorado. In other words, we would get less precipitation,” Hickenlooper said earlier this month while touring the incident command center for the Grizzly Creek Fire in Eagle – the largest in the history of the White River National Forest at more than 32,000 acres (now 91% contained).

“The part that’s almost more concerning is the increasing rise in temperature, which means we’re getting less of a snowpack and it is melting and evaporating or getting sucked into the dry ground so we’re not getting as much runoff into our rivers to help our ranchers and our farmers on the Eastern Plains and in the high country out here,” Hickenlooper added.

Pressed on whether massive fires like Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch – the largest in state history at nearly 140,0000 acres – are the new normal given ongoing drought conditions and ever-increasing temperatures, Hickenlooper gave a nod to the scientists Trump so quickly dismisses.

“Every scientist, or pretty much every scientist I’ve talked to, thinks [climate change is] a very serious concern,” Hickenlooper said. “The issue is it’s a little bit like COVID, right? We can address it now without it costing that much money. We can move towards cleaner energy and have cleaner air. There’s lots of innovation and new jobs — not just new jobs, but new industries — that are going to come out of a transition into cleaner energy.”

Hickenlooper acknowledged there is growing urgency because, fueled by climate change, 19 of the 20 largest fires in state history have happened since 2000.

“…We’ve got to go now and not have to do it in a rush,” Hickenlooper said. “When you look at things like rising sea levels in South Florida, how much is that going to cost if we don’t get out ahead of it and it keeps happening for another 20, 30, 40 years? I mean, the cost becomes astronomical.”

The campaign for incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner – Hickenlooper’s opponent in the Nov. 3 election – did not return multiple emails requesting comment on the connection between increasingly devastating wildfires and climate change. They were also asked about Trump’s science-denying comments on Monday but did not respond.

Last week Hickenlooper’s campaign started running ads touting his plans to combat climate change. He’s also the beneficiary of new ads from environmental groups highlighting his record on electric vehicles. Gardner, meanwhile, is trying to portray himself as an environmental leader after a legislative record many observers say has favored the fossil fuel industry.

Kristin Urquiza, a San Francisco climate activist who spoke at the Democratic National Convention after her father, Mark Urquiza, died from COVID-19 after trusting Trump on bar re-openings in Arizona, issued this statement on Monday:

“President Trump continues to lie about the deadly threat of climate change just as he repeatedly lied to the American public about the threat of COVID,” Urquiza said. “His self-serving agenda exacerbates the severity of the major crises we are facing: the climate crisis, the racial justice crisis, and the COVID crisis. The result? Hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths and significant threats to our national security.”

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David O. Williams
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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