A firefighting plane drops retardants on the Cal-Wood fire near Boulder on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Joseph Gruber, Special to The Colorado Sun)

After this year’s catastrophic and record-breaking wildfire season, it was good to see that the ever-growing problem of wildfires in the West was a topic of discussion at the Western Governors’ Association Annual Winter Meeting on Dec. 10.

As a Boulder County commissioner, I saw firsthand the devastating impacts of wildfires this year that broke records in Colorado history in terms of scope and sheer destruction. 

The Cameron Peak Fire, the largest in state history, burned nearly 209,000 acres and cost nearly $134 million to fight. And the East Troublesome Fire, Colorado’s second-largest wildfire on record, engulfed more than 192,000 acres, placing some 35,000 people under evacuation order, destroying more than 300 homes and killing two citizens.

Deb Gardner

Similar stories came from across the West, with rampant blazes costing local and state governments millions of dollars, forcing evacuations that uprooted families and shuttered local businesses, threatening public health and valuable water resources in our drought-stricken region, and destroying public lands that sustain outdoor recreation economies and make Colorado and other western states great places to call home.

I appreciate Gov. Polis’ rapid response, relief efforts and collaboration with local leaders, which helped save lives, homes and businesses. It’s these partnerships that show how western leaders across many levels of government come together to help each other, which is the epitome of resilience.

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But calamitous wildfires and the conditions that exacerbate them – including severe drought and heat – are perennial problems, and human-caused climate change is at the heart of the issue. 

Local leaders like myself and the communities we serve intimately understand the effects of climate change, because we see and deal with them on a daily basis. 

And it’s time for Gov. Polis and staff to take a bolder stance for our climate and against polluters to mitigate these impacts and work toward a healthier, sustainable and equitable climate future for all Coloradans.

Colorado has set an example for the nation with its ongoing process to develop statewide rules to protect citizens from oil and gas impacts and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions like methane. But the Governor’s Office must go further with its climate plans to crack down on emissions that degrade our air quality, contribute to a warming climate, and disproportionately impact vulnerable communities.

We have a long road ahead to rebuild and revitalize our economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should embrace it as an opportunity to ensure those plans include active solutions to address the climate crisis and climate justice for all. 

Now more than ever, it’s imperative that the Governor’s Office does not let up on the pursuit of meaningful, enforceable policy and action to address this human issue that affects us all.

Deb Gardner is a Boulder County commissioner and a contributor to Western Leaders Voices, a program of the Western Leaders Network that helps amplify the voices of local and tribal elected leaders on conservation issues in the West.

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Deb Gardner

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: dgardner@bouldercounty.org