Envision Forest Health Council outlines progress in first annual report
A year after signing the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the Envision Forest Health Council reports good progress toward implementation. The plan identifies and prioritizes forest treatments and other measures that reduce wildfire risk and improve community preparedness. First-year results include:
- 1,684 acres of forest treatments
- 14,000 acres in the planing pipeline
- $2.6M raised to execute treatment projects and develop new programs
- $1.4M raised from outside sources by leveraging public funds
- Growth in Forest Health Council membership to 35 individuals and 19 organizations
- New participation from regional power providers, state and national conservation organizations and Lake County
Envisioning a Fire-Ready Future
In February 2020, the community updated the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) under the facilitation of Envision Chaffee County. The 10-year plan indicates a top need for strengthening partnerships among those most closely tied to fire resilience and forest health, so the Envision Forest Health Council formed in 2020 to address those leadership needs and successfully implement the plan.
Council membership grew in 2020 to 35 individuals with new members representing regional power providers, state and national conservation organizations and the Lake County community. Together, council members planned and began to execute a portfolio of programs and projects, raising $2.6 million to fund the work.
The 10-year goal is to treat 30,000 acres of forest by 2030 to cut the risk that wildfire poses to community assets in half in a decade. Using the CWPP Treatment Priority Area map, the council has planned and funded the Methodist Front and Coyote Valley Road fuel breaks that protect thousands of citizens from wildfire threats. Treatments include thinning trees, prescribed fire, thinning to clean up slash, and mastication — a patch-clearing method used in the piñon-juniper forest. Work on the Methodist Front started in February.
Additional treatments took place in 2020 as the Bureau of Land Management burned 2,600 piles of slash and the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the Arkansas River headwaters near Monarch Pass.
Community action involves improvements in preparation and safety that are detailed in the 2020 Annual Report to the Community. Thirty percent or 10,000 acres of treatment priority areas in Chaffee County are on private property, requiring accelerated action by landowners. New programs that support participation are Chaffee Chips and the Chaffee Treats Forest Health & Wildfire Mitigation Program.
Chaffee Chips service events were held in 4 locations as nearly 200 landowners created 500 piles of wood slash that were chipped or hauled to the landfill by program service providers — mainly Chaffee County Fire Protection District firefighters. 2021 locations are Game Trail, Mesa Antero Estates, Methodist Front East and subdivisions on the Shavano Front.
Details about these events will be available soon.
Chaffee Treats develops a pipeline of projects that connect large-scale private and public land treatments. The program garnered interest from 161 landowners to pursue more than 2,500 acres of treatments and recently, the American Forest Foundation committed significant funding to advance this work.
Leveraging public funds
Chaffee Common Ground investments of $893,740 over two years were leveraged in 2020 with $736,000 in matching cash contributions from local, federal and private sources to fund treatment projects. Programs and planning efforts also received funding to bring total financial support raised to $2.6 million.
Chaffee County and the Upper Arkansas River Basin are a Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative priority landscape — chosen as one of three focus areas by the initiative because of the community-driven wildfire protection plan and direct financial support by residents and visitors through the Common Ground tax measure. This partnership proves fruitful as interest and support are directed toward our community from organizations like the National Forest Foundation, American Forest Foundation, RESTORE Colorado, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Forest Service.
Toward a fire-ready future
Chaffee County’s natural resources support the community’s quality of life. They are the destination and inspiration among millions of visitors. They host 100-plus miles of Gold Medal fishing and hundreds of thousands of boaters. They provide water to agriculture lands and millions of people downstream.
Through the process of updating the wildfire plan, citizens prioritized the things they value that are at risk from severe forest fires including life, water, infrastructure, homes, wildlife, views and recreation. There is much work to do yet in its first year, the Envision Forest Health Council and the community have set the stage for a better future through a leading-edge fire resiliency plan that will improve forest health and protect resources that millions rely on.