DENVER—The High Park fire has torched thousands of acres of forest, and this week sparked a heated debate that’s raging through the hotly contested Fourth Congressional District race.
Republican Congressman Cory Gardner said he would call for an investigation into how the federal roadless rule and strands of beetle-kill trees may have fed the fast-moving fire.
“We will be asking for a full-blown investigation into whether or not roadless policies contributed to the severity of this fire,” Gardner told The Coloradoan Monday. “The next step here is to have a clear focus on forest management and to recognize the dangers that we face in our own backyard with beetle-killed wood.”
The next day, Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer, who is running against Gardner in the Fourth Congressional District, blasted Gardner’s suggestion in a left-wing newspaper.
“It’s unfortunate that he wants to politicize this fire,” the Democrat Shaffer told the liberal Colorado Independent. “Right now we need to band together and focus on getting the fire out and taking care of the people and the animals that have been displaced.”
Shaffer appeared to take a backhanded swipe at Gardner Wednesday in a plea on his campaign website Wednesday, asking for donations to the American Red Cross and Larimer County Humane Society.
“So instead of asking you to support my campaign today, I want to take a moment and ask that you join me in helping the victims of this natural disaster,” Shaffer said in his post. “Now is the time to come together and help those in need, this isn’t a political opportunity. So let’s end the political grandstanding and focus on helping our neighbors.”
Rachel Boxer, a spokeswoman for Rep. Gardner, came out in defense of the congressman’s proposed inquiry while emphasizing that containing the fire is still his top priority.
“He was asked a question about the fire and the roadless rule by a reporter, and he answered,” Boxer said. “It’s certainly a legitimate policy question, but it isn’t a priority right now with the fire still uncontained.”
While Shaffer and other Democrats were eager to pounce on Gardner for raising the possibility that bad forest management policy contributed to the fire, they were less eager to point out that Gardner’s outspoken push to get more men and machines to fight the fire triggered a political arms race of sorts by other politicians to ensure that the northern Colorado blaze had all the resources possible.
Gardner penned a letter calling on the Forest Service to release all available resources to fight the wildfire. In the aftermath of the request, the issue had taken on a high enough political profile for President Barack Obama to sign legislation designed to expand Forest Service access to additional air resources.
While officials continue to investigate the causes of the fire, there appears to be a consensus building that the county’s vast acreage of beetle-kill trees contributed to the disaster.
“Drought conditions, steep and rough terrain, along with beetle-kill trees are fueling a fire that has a dangerous upper hand,” the delegation letter stated. “It’s the worst case scenario.”
Still in dispute is whether the roadless rule has contributed to the fire.