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In its latest annual report, the Envision Forest Health Council reports that $19 million has been raised to-date to support its program work. More than 1,600 community members are involved in action steps to implement Chaffee County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

A map created by the Forest Health Council showing the Chaffee County fuel treatment priority areas.

According to an announcement from Envision Chaffee County, the plan sets a course for improving wildfire resiliency through strategic forest treatments and additional actions. It was updated in 2020 using computer modeling technology to:

  • Identify the right acres to treat
  • Reduce wildfire threat
  • Protect assets like water supply and infrastructure

At that time, the Forest Health Council was formed to ensure the plan’s goals are implemented. The council currently has more than 40 members.

The 2021 report, available on the Envision website, is the second annual summary of progress toward improved wildfire resiliency in Chaffee County.

The full wildfire plan report will be presented during the Monday, March 7 Chaffee Board of County Commissioners meeting.

The CWPP’s main goal is to treat 30,000 acres of forest by 2030. These acres are identified as Treatment Priority Areas on a map that guides collaborative projects and programs, to ensure that forest treatments such as tree thinning and prescribed burns are efficient. The work protects homes and community assets and improves firefighter safety in the event of a fire.

The council reports 3,136 acres treated to date, plus about 21,000 acres in the pipeline. To fund this work, Forest Health Council partners have raised $19 million. This figure includes $3.2 million from the Chaffee Common Ground sales tax measure, as well as state- and federal-level grants and investments.

While many think wildfire is a public lands issue, one-third of the county’s Treatment Priority Areas are privately owned. The Forest Health Council has organized work on these 10,000 acres, engaging more than 800 homeowners to reduce risk by removing fuels on their properties. Private citizen involvement is highlighted in this year’s report because it is imperative to implement the plan.

“The plan is like a big, heavy flywheel that is starting to turn because the community is putting its collective shoulder to the wheel,” Envision Co-lead Cindy Williams said, noting that programs like Chaffee Chips and Chaffee Treats are outlined in the report.

Federal land management agencies completed more than 2,000 acres of treatments on public lands in 2021, including 1,331 by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). This includes work on two large community fuel breaks, which reduce fuel loads by thinning trees in a strategic area to act as a barrier to stop or slow the spread of wildfire.

In addition, the USFS conducted a prescribed low-intensity burn on the Shavano Front last fall.

The report outlines challenges, such as forester and contractor capacity to complete treatments in a timely manner. Like many communities across the American West, Chaffee County faces the threat of high wildfire danger due to decades of fire suppression, drought and ensuing insect infestations that caused forests to decline into poor health.

“While an encouraging level of planning and funding is in place, there is still much to do,” Williams said, noting that even if fully implemented, the CWPP goals reduce wildfire risk to community assets by just half. “It is imperative that all homeowners create defensible space around their homes no matter their identified level of risk, and that families are and remain fully prepared to evacuate.”

Envision facilitates and tracks Forest Health Council activities and communicates progress to the community. In addition to wildfire resiliency, Envision is involved in planning efforts focused on outdoor recreation growth management and sustaining rural landscapes by supporting agricultural operations in Chaffee County.