The American Forest Foundation (AFF) is partnering with local forestry professionals to bring resources and jobs to the community that will help increase the rate of forest treatments in Chaffee County.
The organization is dedicating $192,000 in funding this year to expand the Chaffee Treats Forest Health and Wildfire Mitigation Program, developed by the Envision Forest Health Council to encourage fuels reduction on private property identified as high priority in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
While most think wildfire is a public lands issue, more than one-third of the West’s forested acres with high wildfire risk are owned by private individuals, according to AFF’s research. The organization works nationwide with landowners to actively care for their forests.
“Given the scale of the West’s fire crisis and the increasing demand for forestry expertise, we need to have more boots on the ground to help landowners manage their risk,” said Natalie Omundson, Western Conservation Manager for the American Forest Foundation.
AFF’s support brings up to five additional professional foresters to Chaffee County. The foresters will help landowners develop plans for treatments that reduce wildfire risk while also improving forest health. Once the plans are in hand, landowners will be positioned to obtain financial assistance to help cover the treatment cost. Options include thinning trees, prescribed fire and mastication, a patch-clearing method used in the piñon-juniper forest.
Among the acres identified as the highest priority in Chaffee County, about one-third — 10,000 acres — is on private property. Chaffee Treats identified 162 landowners with 2,500 priority acres willing to participate. All landowners in high treatment priority zones are eligible.
“AFF is quite excited about the momentum in Chaffee County,” said Omundson. “A lot of the partners and assistance programs are already in place to scale action on the ground with private landowners.”
The new foresters will work with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and Colorado Firecamp, two key Forest Health Council members leading the development of Chaffee Treats.
“Our forests are overstocked and unhealthy and we need to thin them out. This is a great way to help get that done, by bringing foresters to the community to meet with landowners,” said Damon Lange, CSFS Southwest Area Manager. “We’ll see a healthier forest across the county as a result.”
Colorado Firecamp is the only year-round wildland firefighter school in the country, training about 800 students a year from all over the U.S. “We provide firefighter and sawyer students training including thinning trees and prescribed fire, and are excited to expand our ability to help landowners get the treatment done,” said Kent Maxwell, Firecamp founder, and training coordinator.
Chaffee County becomes AFF’s third focus area in Colorado. Additional resources are currently invested in the Front Range and in the southwest region near Durango. AFF joined forces with the Natural Resources Conservation Services on a $4.6 million pilot program to build forester capacity across priority landscapes in California, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon.
The news coincides with two recent bills in Colorado (SB21-113 and SB21-054 ) that focus on improving the state’s ability to manage its wildfire response. 2020 was the most destructive year for wildfires in Colorado history.
For more information about Chaffee Treats or to see if you may be eligible, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.