COSWAP funding to help start new forest mitigation projects this fall
July 15, 2022 — Gov. Jared Polis was joined by local and state leaders, legislators, first responders and forest mitigation groups this month to announce multi-million dollar funding boosts. Polis said the new funding would complement the significant progress state, federal and local entities have made on forest health and wildfire mitigation initiatives since the disastrous fire year of 2020.
Included in the funding was $1 million for fire mitigation work in the Upper Arkansas Valley. A half-million dollars was allocated to Chaffee County and another $500,000 to Lake County.
“The Envision Forest Health Council is excited about the new funding announced by Gov. Polis,” said Cindy Williams, co-lead of Envision and facilitator for the Envision Forest Health Council in Chaffee County. “Both counties had the opportunity to apply due to collaborative work on coordinated wildfire protection plans that prioritize forest treatments to cut the risk that fire poses to community-prioritized assets in half, including lives, water, infrastructure and wildlife habitat.
“This is an excellent example of collaborative work by the Forest Health Council in Chaffee County and its engagement with Lake County, which followed the Chaffee Wildfire Plan model to create similar treatment prioritization early this year,” Williams said. “Lake County now can also accelerate treatments — important considering they are upstream and as we know, fire does not respect county boundaries.”
The Upper Arkansas River Valley is a Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI) focus area, which made the two counties eligible for the state funding from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Co-convened by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Forest Service, RMRI is a statewide collaborative aimed at increasing the resilience of forests, habitat, communities, recreation opportunities and water resources in Colorado.
In Chaffee County, the funds will be administered by the National Forest Foundation in coordination with the Forest Health Council. They will be used to treat lands identified as the highest priority in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Treatment is expected to start this fall.
In addition to the $1 million Landscape Resilience Investment, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources awarded Workforce Development Grants to projects in both Chaffee and Lake counties. Chaffee County’s project will reduce wildfire risk in the North Cottonwood Creek drainage, the source for Buena Vista’s drinking water supply.
The funds are part of roughly $20 million the Forest Health Council has raised since 2020 with federal, state and local Chaffee Common Ground grants, Williams said.
The National Forest Foundation is managing the majority of these funds through the Upper Ark Forest Fund, a mechanism created by the Forest Health Council to collate funds and manage treatment contracts across private and public lands.
Polis noted over the last 2 years, his administration has committed around $145 million in state funds and leveraged million in federal funding for forest health and wildfire mitigation work to protect Colorado’s communities, critical infrastructure, and watersheds from future wildfires.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources is moving $13.3 million for on the ground forest mitigation work and landscape scale projects this year and $44 million to protect and restore watersheds threatened catastrophic wildfire.
The Colorado State Forest Service also saw significant boosts to its grant programs to communities for fuels mitigation work, new funds for a state nursery to support post-fire reforestation, and investments to enhance state wildfire risk awareness campaigns.
The Polis-Primavera administration understands that there are more needs than funds or teams available and has been working hard to get resources and support to where it’s needed most and make an impact on the ground for communities and critical infrastructure, a press release stated.
“We are extremely excited to get funds and and these conservation corps and DOC SWIFT crews out to communities who are in immediate need of forest health and wildfire mitigation projects,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “In many areas of Colorado there are projects waiting for funding or may not have the people power to get off the ground.
“This grant is here to kick start these needed projects and place hand crews where they are needed to protect life, property and critical infrastructure,” Gibbs continued. “We appreciate the support of the governor, legislators, our federal partners and local and regional entities who are working hand in hand together on our forest health and wildfire prevention priorities.”
A version of this story written by Chaffee County Times Editor Dave Schiefelbein originally appeared that Buena Vista weekly newspaper.
Gov. Polis’s announcement helps fund additional wildfire mitigation projects in the Upper Ark Valley. Recent Chaffee County projects:
- Collaboration among Forest Health Council partners and private property owners creates a 10-mile-long community fuel break in the foothill of Methodist Mountain to protect the Salida and Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people.
- The Riverside and Railroad Bridge projects protect the Arkansas River and thin overgrown forests north of Buena Vista while improving habitat for bighorn sheep and other wildlife that depend on these areas to survive.
- A mid-county fuel break on Coyote Valley Road was completed this year through the participation of more than a dozen homeowners in the Mesa Antero area and managed by the Colorado State Forest Service.