National Forest Foundation to accelerate both public and private land treatments under the Forest Health Council
The Upper Ark Forest Fund created by the National Forest Foundation is set to accelerate forest treatments as outlined in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
As the Congressionally chartered partner of the U.S. Forest Service, NFF manages on-the-ground projects on national forest lands that improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk, including forest thinning and prescribed low-intensity burning.
The NFF has worked in Colorado for nearly 20 years. It chose the Upper Arkansas River Basin to develop the new fund because of the strong community support for reducing wildfire risk.
Chaffee is one of only a few communities in the West to vote for public funding of forest restoration projects. The tax proves a local commitment to this work.”Marcus Selig, vice president of field programs for the NFF
County voters passed a 0.25% sales tax measure in 2018 to generate revenue for the Chaffee Common Ground program that supports forest health, sustained rural landscapes and managed recreation growth. About $1.5 million is raised annually. The program is providing $1.64 million in seed funds over the next five years to help raise a targeted $10 million for forest treatments under the Upper Ark Forest Fund.
A Salida resident, Selig is a member of the Envision Forest Health Council’s group of leaders working to implement the 2020 wildfire plan. In the first year, the Council leveraged $1.2 million in Common Ground revenues to raise $2.6 million for forest projects that include the Methodist Front community fuel break, the Coyote Valley Road fuel break and Chaffee Chips, a slash removal and chipping service.
NFF aggregates and distributes funds from beneficiaries, utilities, state and local governments, foundations and corporations for wide-scale forest work across the nation. The organization designs and oversees cross-boundary projects that include private land treatments that address high wildfire risk. One-third of Chaffee County’s identified treatment priority areas are privately owned.
“There is value in working on both public and private lands to achieve effectiveness across the landscape” Selig said. For the same reason, the Upper Ark Forest Fund will support Lake County projects once the Leadville community’s wildfire plan update is complete in 2022.
Lake County’s wildfire plan will mimic Chaffee County’s by incorporating resident priorities and developing a map that shows where to treat lands for the highest cost efficiency and community benefit. Chaffee’s plan identifies 30,000 acres of treatments to target by 2030 — an objective that would halve the risk wildfire poses to people, structures and natural resources in a ten-year timeframe.
“Both counties are in the Upper Ark watershed. They are interconnected so we’re going to address the challenges holistically,” Selig said.
NFF is the second national organization to invest resources in Chaffee County this year. The American Forest Foundation committed $192,000 to support the planning aspect of projects on private property.