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Dear Editor:

Our local forest health is declining, and we as citizens of Chaffee County have an opportunity with County Ballot Issue 1A to help change the course to a healthier forest. I have lived here for 26 years, have managed recreation and lands in the Salida Ranger District for 17 years, and have been fighting and managing wildfires for 46 years. I have seen the devastation fires can cause to a community both physically and emotionally, their long-lasting effects and the costs in recovering from those fires.

Nature can’t sustain its natural conditions without our help. There are just too many of us impacting the natural environment at an alarming rate. The forest has become more choked with vegetation without sufficient management as insects and disease have taken over. Our climate in Chaffee County has changed more than most counties in the lower 48 and is now about 2.3 degrees warmer than it was 30 years ago, based on climate records given to me by The Associated Press.

More homes and people are moving into the back country, impacting how the forest is managed and how we fight fires. Over 50 percent of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management agencies’ budgets have been going to fight fires due to the size and severity of modern day fires. Much of these funds were originally programmed to go to forest health, thinning, watershed improvements, wildlife, recreation management and many other resources.

The dead and fallen trees are impacting our trails, making them more costly and difficult to clear and maintain. The simple fact is the federal agencies don’t have the funds or people to properly manage our public lands, and volunteers are stretched too thin.

The money that will be generated by County Ballot Measure 1A will help manage our public lands in a way that best meets Chaffee County’s needs: protecting our watersheds, creating a healthier environment for fish and wildlife, sustaining cleaner water and fostering more informed, responsible visitors to Chaffee County. I urge you to vote “Yes” on 1A to help keep our public lands so we can use and enjoy them for years to come.

Mike Sugaski