Total support of more than $1M from RESTORE Colorado significantly advances Forest Health Council’s long-term goals
In another sign of progress towards achieving the goals of the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies jointly secured $305,700 in grant funds to reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfire and restore wildlife habitat along the west side of Highway 24 north of Buena Vista.
“These are the types of locally focused projects that can generate win-win scenarios for wildlife and people not just across the state, but throughout the entire West.”Chris West, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies identified and developed the project in a collaborative effort to support the Envision Forest Health Council’s goal to address wildfire threat and improve wildlife habitat in Chaffee County. The new grant will be matched with $289,000 from the Town of Buena Vista, the NFF’s Upper Arkansas Forest Fund, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, Envision Chaffee County and the Bureau of Land Management.
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and the NFF are both members of the Forest Health Council.
The grant award comes courtesy of RESTORE Colorado to help fund 425 acres of forest thinning on public and private land, known as the Riverside Upland Restoration Project. Work is expected to begin this fall. After the thinning is completed, these forest lands will represent yet another step toward treating the most important lands in Chaffee County to reduce the risks of severe wildfire, as outlined in Chaffee County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
The Riverside project complements related projects in the county coordinated by the Envision Forest Health Council, such as the nearby Railroad Bridge Habitat Improvement and Fuels Reduction Project, which began last year and continues this fall to restore 400 acres.
Largely due to the modern era of fire suppression – a reaction to increasing human development and infrastructure in forest lands – forests on public and private land have generally become denser over the past 100 years. And, absent fire on the landscape, what once might have been a ponderosa woodland may now be dominated by other tree and plant species that can impede wildlife migration and reduce forage.
The combination of denser forests and changes to the mix of tree and plant species in the Riverside Project area has increased the risk for high-intensity wildfire and degraded habitat and forage for native species like elk and mule deer. Increasing temperatures and reduced snow and rainfall forecast as a result of climate change are expected to exacerbate these conditions for decades to come. The new funding from RESTORE Colorado will help strategically address these issues in the Riverside Project area, a priority treatment area.
RESTORE Colorado is a partnership of the Colorado Department of Natural Resource, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“These projects in Chaffee County will boost forest health and preserve the connectivity of migration routes, while also keeping communities safer,” said Chris West, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office. “These are the types of locally focused projects that can generate win-win scenarios for wildlife and people not just across the state, but throughout the entire West.”
To date, RESTORE Colorado has funded three forest health projects in the Upper Arkansas Valley in each of the past three years, contributing over $1 million to the area.