More than 5,000 acres treated as Community Wildfire Protection Plan Implementation Continues
In its latest Annual Report to the Community, the Envision Forest Health Council reports $23 million raised as well as nearly 1,100 community members taking action to implement Chaffee County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). Representatives of the Chaffee Forest Health Council presented an overview of their annual report during the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners’ (BoCC) work session on Monday, March 6.
Under the promise of “Funding a Fire-ready Future,” the county through the combined efforts of the entities that comprise the Envision Forest Health Council has pursued a variety of funding sources.
These range from state and federal agencies, the federal forest foundation and federal grants, to the Chaffee County voter-approved Chaffee Common Ground funding.
The plan sets a course to improve wildfire resiliency through up to 30,000 acres of strategic forest treatments and additional actions. It was updated in 2020 using computer modeling technology to identify the right lands to treat and to reduce wildfire threats and to protect assets like water supply and infrastructure. At that time, the Forest Health Council was formed to ensure the plan’s goals were implemented. The council has grown in three years to more than 50 members.
In the three years since updating the plan, the council reports 5,158 acres treated plus about 16,500 acres in the pipeline. In the presentation, Common Ground leader Cindy Williams pointed out that the acres in the treatment pipeline constitute more than half the total 30,000 acreages written into the plan for treatment to mitigate the worst impacts of wildfires in the county (meaning the areas most vulnerable).
The program plan is to keep adding new private landowners into the pipeline. “We’ve done eight percent of our goal of private lands treatment,” said Williams. “To meet the goal might mean ongoing staff additions and of course, it requires willing land owners.”
To fund this work, $23 million has been raised, including $3.7 million from the Chaffee Common Ground Fund, as well as state and federal-level investments that are detailed in the report. “The community is making strides to not only complete forest treatments but also to prepare for an inevitable wildfire.”
The report highlights include:
- 877 acres of private property treated, a 35-fold increase in three years
- Strong willingness among private landowners to thin trees
- Added forestry staff and sawyer support to accelerate treatments
- A total of seven Firewise USA communities, up from three in 2020
- Continued participation in the Chaffee Chips slash haul away service
- Development code updates that require safer firefighter access and defensible space around new construction
- Growth in the number of Forest Health Council partners
- Completion of a similar CWPP in Lake County
The report outlines challenges that involve the need for more staff capacity to accelerate forest treatments, more prescribed burns, and continued fundraising to cover the cost of inflation.
Williams noted that the original estimate of the treatment cost was $45 million, but with inflation, the funding target might need to adjust upwards.
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. To review the report, visit bit.ly/3SYyao9.
“This whole Rec Rangers, the progress in outdoor rec management is incredible… it’s helped drive partnerships in the outdoor program for the state,” commented Commissioner Greg Felt. “Our community wildfire protection plan, our Forest Health Council is making huge impacts not just here and in Lake County, but statewide and throughout the West. People want to know how we did it .. how did we bring the agencies together to work across lines.”
“The local funding that our community voted to support, and the innovative projects we’ve been able to do have been huge toward addressing the landscape scale challenges,” he added.
Photo credit: Big River Collective