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Shutdown puts Colorado's forests at greater risk for wildfires, expert says

Shutdown began over border, now petty politics

The partial government shutdown is putting Colorado's 24 million acres of forests at risk this summer, says the state's forester.

Mike Lester said winter months are critical for wildfire managers. They use the break from the flames for pile burning, for example, which clears debris that commonly fuels large wildfires during the summer.

"That is specifically done when there's snow on the ground," Lester told CBS Denver.

In the high country, that's right now. But state and local agencies say there's only so much they can do without the U.S. Forest Service, which manages about 65 percent of the forests in Colorado. 

"We don't have enough staff resources to get the job done that we need to get done."

Lester said the government shutdown has drastically reduced staffing at the Forest Service.

"Whenever we take any of those players out of the mix, we have an even greater capacity issue," Lester said. 

Lester said the state of Colorado has a significant amount of assets at risk with fires, and the shutdown's impact on the Forest Service was not helping the cause.

"Clean air, clean water, wildlife habitats, recreation," Lester said. "Those are all things we get with our forest, and we cannot take that for granted."

Flames rise from a treeline near an emergency vehicle during efforts to contain the Spring Creek Fire in Costilla County
Flames rise near an emergency vehicle in Costilla County, Colorado, on June 27, 2018.  Costilla County Sheriff's Office via REUTERS