Dear Editor,

I would like to thank and congratulate the entire Chaffee community as we achieve a major milestone by completing the Next Generation Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). On Feb. 4th, authorities approved a community-driven wildfire plan that will guide work to cut the risk a severe wildfire poses to the community in half. Thousands of citizens have been engaged, starting in 2017 with the Envision Chaffee County movement.

Strong and collaborative local leaders from land management agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations took on a big challenge – to decrease the risk that severe wildfire poses to our safety and quality of life and also to enhance forest health and habitat. The plan is a showcase for how forests can be managed by a community working together, and it is already gaining attention and support from state and federal organizations.

Supervisory Forester Adam Moore, Southwest Area, Alamosa Field Office signs the CWPP on Tuesday while Commissioner Greg Felt looks on. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The work involved cutting-edge computer modeling guided by local expertise.  The combination delivered a profound conclusion: Treating just 5-10 percent of the right lands can reduce risk by 50 to 70 percent. Specifically, risk to assets the community prioritized as most important:  human life, drinking water supply, critical infrastructure, homes, habitat and economy-driving recreational assets.  The plan will change what we treat, how we will spend money, and how we will work together.

No other Colorado community has taken a wildfire protection plan to this level, or realized that so few acres treated can impact so much.

The CWPP was convened to advance Envision’s community vision of a future with “healthy forests, waters and wildlife.”  Local leaders set a huge goal for themselves and for the community: Work together to treat up to 30,000 acres, cutting risk to our most important assets in half by 2030.  About 30 percent of these acres are on private lands, and the remainder on public lands.

Thank you to the 1,035 Chaffee Wildfire Survey respondents and 210 citizens who attended community input sessions that guided this plan. Your input was heard and the new plan reflects your opinions!

The CWPP update spanned 16 months and involved 36 leaders from 17 federal and state agencies, local fire departments, government entities and non-profit organizations who contributed hundreds of hours in planning sessions. A huge thanks for your time and your amazing leadership!

Thanks to the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners for advancing wildfire protection and recreation impacts management through leadership. A special thanks to Commissioner Felt for co-leading Envision and providing guidance throughout this planning work.

Years of fire suppression and ensuing beetle infestations have caused poor forest health in Chaffee County.  Residents are also concerned that rapid growth in recreation adds additional threat of human-caused wildfire.  Envision is addressing recreation impacts through the Recreation in Balance program, again with the support of strong local leaders in the USFS, CPW, BLM, County and non-profit community – thank you all for what you do to protect and enhance our special quality of life!

Thanks also to the Envision Core Team members who visualized progress such as this week’s milestone back in 2016. Thank you to Central Colorado Conservancy for partnering with Chaffee County to serve as Envision’s facilitator, catalyzing community collaboration and partnerships such as that with the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University who delivered the computer modeling.

Envision now turns toward implementing the CWPP.  Community leaders and citizens have formed the Envision Forest Health Council to lead the effort. A final thanks to county voters who supported Ballot Issue 1A in 2018. Chaffee Common Ground is already leveraging public funds by a 7:1 margin and will be essential in making the community’s vision of “healthy forests, waters and wildlife” a reality!

Let’s get to work taking care of our overly dense forests on public and private lands. We are a special community and, with this new CWPP, we are empowered to be as fire-ready as we can be!

Sincerely,

Cindy Williams

Envision Chaffee County Co-Lead

Board President Central Colorado Conservancy