Common Ground invested nearly $260K to help implement Chaffee County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The plan maps where to treat up to 30,000 acres of public and private lands by 2030 to improve wildfire resiliency as local forests have declined into poor health and contributed to increased wildfire incidents in recent years.
The three-year project is led by the Envision Forest Health Council, a group of community leaders and land management agencies from more than 20 organizations that developed the 2020 plan to protect what residents said they value most: firefighter lives, human lives, drinking water supply, essential infrastructure, homes, wildlife habitat and recreation assets that support the local economy.
The plan uses new computer modeling techniques developed by Colorado State University to map the level of risk and identify areas to treat the forest for the highest cost efficiency. This new approach “treats the right acres for the highest community benefit,” said Damon Lange, Southwest Area Manager with the Colorado State Forest Service.
The outcome of the modeling and mapping work is profound and proposes substantial change to the way forest management is done in Chaffee County. The plan is to reduce the overall risk to the community’s assets by nearly 50% in ten years by accelerating forest treatments such as prescribed burns and thinning on the right acres, as unanimously supported by the Forest Health Council. This will take real change, spanning 70% public and 30% private lands. Near-term goals include:
- Treating 10,000 to 15,000 acres by the end of 2025
- Completing early projects by treating 1,500 priority acres by 2021
- Developing a pipeline of projects by the end of 2020 to treat 4,000 acres in new priority areas
Grants were awarded to Colorado State Forest Service and Envision Chaffee County to develop programs that encourage and enable citizens to improve their defensible space, have personal evacuation plans in place, and make their neighborhoods more fire resilient. Funding translates the Council’s goals into on-the-ground projects such as fuel breaks and helps residents prepare for a large wildfire. Programs include:
- Chaffee Chips, a county-wide program that helps private landowners create defensible space through a chipping/slash hauling service;
- Communications support to educate the public, increase awareness, maintain and improve support for forest treatments, and encourage action.
“With this strong commitment, the community can be assured that this plan is not going to be sitting on a shelf,” County Commissioner Greg Felt said.
The Council also works to develop the estimated $45-50 million in funding needed over 10 years to accomplish the goals. Common Ground forest health funds are leveraged to the highest extent possible to support strategic investments in the county’s forest health.
Read more Stories of Impact from Chaffee Common Ground.