A joint proposal submitted by Chaffee and Lake counties to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI) on Nov. 3 will receive partial funding. While the amount of funding is not yet known, the multi-year nature of the grant means that the plan for local efforts is deemed ‘worthy of support and engagement’.

“We are excited that the Upper Arkansas Revival project is one of only three projects selected for continuing RMRI support, following a very competitive process with seven excellent applications from across the state,” said Envision Chaffee County Co-lead Cindy Williams.

Chaffee and Lake counties were among eight communities invited to compete for funding from the three focal areas for the grant: two are in Southwest Colorado, four in Central Colorado and two along the I-70 Corridor. One of the other communities was Durango, which experienced severe fire during the summer of 2018, while Chaffee has just recently experienced the Decker Fire.

“Our uniquely engaged community, innovative approaches and collaboration between the Lake and Chaffee County Commissioners all created that success. We look forward to continued engagement with the State and Federal RMRI partners as the program develops,” added Williams. “In the meantime, Chaffee County is taking huge steps right now to enhance forest health. Our Community Wildfire Protection Plan is nearly complete and Common Ground funds are in place to begin implementation with the community.”

Chaffee Commissioner Greg Felt, U.S. Forest Service Manager Jim Pitts  and Williams, presented the Upper Arkansas Revival project in Golden, to what was termed “an unprecedented gathering of Colorado’s land managers, natural resource partners, utility providers and nonprofit organizations”. The group’s focus: a collaborative effort to increase the resilience of Colorado’s forests and communities. The diverse group of 30 organizations joined forces as the“Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative” to explore places where they can pool resources to make transformational differences “to protect the things Coloradans value most: recreation opportunities, water resources, communities, forests and wildlife habitats.”

The group unanimously selected the Southwest Colorado Project, which encompasses nearly 750,000 acres along Colo. Highway 160, including the towns of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Durango and portions of the San Juan National Forest.

While the RMRI group made the decision to fully fund the southwest region appeal (Durango), it also announced that the proposed Upper Arkansas project will receive an as yet undetermined level of funding for a 10 year period of time. That decision says Williams, demonstrates that the Upper Ark proposal has also been deemed to have potential.

“Our collaborative efforts at the state level will enable local conservation partners to get work done on a larger scale that crosses numerous boundaries and improves forest health, protects water quality and wildlife habitat as well as enhances opportunities for the forest products industry and outdoor recreation in Colorado. We applaud the hard work and collaborative effort of the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative,” said Dan Gibbs, Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director.

“Improving forest health and protecting communities, watersheds and wildlife habitats requires significant resources and partnerships,” added Gibbs . While the Southwest Colorado Project rose to the top, we know there is a lot more work to do across Colorado and look forward to harnessing the best practices and methods of this process for more Colorado communities.”

The Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative was born when Colorado was selected as a pilot location by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the USDA Forest Service to showcase what they refer to as “the USDA’s Shared Stewardship Strategy”. This is a national effort to plan and implement work across public and private lands.

Last July, the newly formed Initiative, representing interests from across Colorado, chose three priority areas—southwest Colorado, the central Front Range, and the I-70 corridor. Stakeholders in these priority areas teamed up and proposed projects where a collective investment in time, talent and resources could make a significant difference in the ability of a community and its surrounding environment to withstand the impact of an unplanned fire. Projects could simultaneously address multiple goals in a given area: restoring forests, enhancing recreation opportunities, protecting waterways and improving wildlife habitat

To read earlier coverage by Ark Valley Voice about the Upper Arkansas project, follow this link: https://arkvalleyvoice.com/chaffee-county-applies-for-new-colorado-state-fire-resiliency-grant/

Editor’s note: the featured image is an example of the types of new treatments that can improve forest health in the central Rockies. It shows steep-slope cut-to-length equipment which uses tracks and a winch to perform logging operations on slopes as steep as 70 percent. The U.S. Forest service proposes to use this equipment for the first time in Colorado to harvest beetle-kill timber that would otherwise contribute to heightened risk of forest fire in the Monarch Pass area (courtesy photo).