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This morning in Evergreen, Governor Jared Polis was joined by local and state leaders, legislators, first responders, and local forest mitigation groups today to give an update on the significant progress state, federal, and local entities have made on forest health and wildfire mitigation initiatives since the disastrous fire year of 2020. Over the last 2 years, the Polis administration has committed around $145 million in state funds and leveraged millions in federal funds for forest health and wildfire mitigation work to protect Colorado’s communities, critical infrastructure, and watersheds from future wildfires. Lesley Dahlkemper, Jefferson County Commissioner and State Rep. Lisa Cutter joined today’s event.
“Colorado now has a nearly year-round fire season and our administration in partnership with the legislature are stepping up to better support first responders and communities. More work needs to be done to help protect our homes, our forests and our air so we are continuing our efforts and committing ourselves to significantly expand our wildfire prevention work,” said Governor Jared Polis.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources is moving $13.3 million for on the ground forest mitigation work and landscape scale projects this year and $44 million dollars to protect and restore watersheds threatened by catastrophic wildfire. The Colorado State Forest Service also saw significant boosts to its grant programs to communities for fuels mitigation work, new funds for a state nursery to support post-fire reforestation, and investments to enhance state wildfire risk awareness campaigns.
The Polis-Primavera administration understands that there are more needs than funds or teams available and has been working hard to get resources and support to where it’s needed most and make an impact on the ground for communities and Colorado’s critical infrastructure.
“We are extremely excited to get funds and these conservation corps and DOC SWIFT crews out to communities who are in immediate need of forest health and wildfire mitigation projects. In many areas of Colorado there are projects waiting for funding or may not have the people power to get off the ground. This Grant is here to kick start these needed projects and place hand crews where they are needed to protect life, property and critical infrastructure. We appreciate the support of the Governor, legislators, our federal partners and local and regional entities who are working hand in hand together on our forest health and wildfire prevention priorities,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Governor Polis and Director Gibbs discussed the importance of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) which has funded over $13 million in wildfire mitigation projects focusing on workforce development and landscape resilience. Within that, COSWAP’s Workforce Development Grant has invested over $6 million to support on the ground wildfire mitigation work by conservation corps or Department of Corrections (DOC) State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT), and wildfire mitigation workforce training. The Landscape Resilience Investment program focuses on larger investments in cross-boundary wildfire mitigation projects with a shared stewardship approach. $7 million has been awarded to 8 landscape projects across 8 counties.
The Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) within the Department of Natural Resources was launched by the Polis administration through the bipartisan SB21-258 to invest $25 million in targeted wildfire risk mitigation, prioritize and fund key mitigation projects. COSWAP is designed to quickly move $17.5 million state stimulus dollars to start on-the-ground work on fuels reduction projects and increase Colorado’s capacity to conduct critical forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work that will increase community resilience and protect life, property and infrastructure.
COSWAP has allocated funding through two grant programs. Workforce Development Grant:
1. 41 Projects, 17 Counties, 3,664 Acres
2. 3 wildfire mitigation workforce training grants supporting over 150 people in receiving S130/S190, S212 and a prescribed fire training exchange.
Landscape Resilience Investment: 8 projects spread throughout COSWAP’s strategic focus areas have been selected for funding. Projects range from $500,000-$1,000,000 and will be matched by $4 million in local, federal, or other state funding.
1. Larimer County: Pole Hill / Waltonia, $1,000,000
2. Boulder County: Phase 1: St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership Project, $1,000,000
3. Jefferson County: Jefferson County Wildfire Safe, $1,000,000
4. RMRI Upper Arkansas – Chaffee County: Upper Arkansas Thrives – Landscape Level Resilience in Chaffee County, $500,000
5. RMRI Southwest Colorado – Mancos Conservation District: RMRI SW Colorado – Northwest Mancos Priority Zone, $1,000,000
6. RMRI Upper Arkansas – Lake County: Lake County CWPP Fuels Reduction Project, $500,000
7. RMRI Upper South Platte – Jefferson Conservation District: Upper South Platte Landscape Resilience, $1,000,000
8. Colorado State Forest Service – Teller County: Teller County Forest Health and Resilience Project (TCFHR), $1,000,000
“The partnership between Colorado conservation corps and the Polis-Primavera administration represents the best of Colorado: channeling resources into an efficient, proven solution that will protect the lives of millions of residents. The COSWAP program helps hundreds of young Coloradans find their purpose through service while addressing the existential crisis of climate change,” said Scott Segerstrom, Executive Director of the Colorado Youth Corps Association following today’s event.
“The Conifer/ Evergreen area has some of the highest wildfire risk in the state and requires funding sources that support mitigation work at multiple scales. Financial support that focuses on community protection is critical to ensuring safe and effective fire response. Implementation of projects in this area is not easily achieved and requires an immense amount of cross boundary collaboration with many partners and landowners,” said Benjamin Yellin, Wildfire Captain, Elk Creek Fire Protection District. “The flexibility of COSWAP in Jefferson County and the Upper South Platte Watershed will fund multiple landscape scale projects, support needed defensible space for residents, while facilitating critical planning processes that will align regional efforts and policy for the future.”
Captain Yellen, Matt McCombs with the Colorado State Forest Service and Garret Stevens with the Jefferson Conservation District spoke at today’s event
In addition to making forest mitigation a priority, Colorado also has invested significantly in watershed protection- a key component of forest restoration. Approximately 80 percent of Colorado’s population relies on forested watersheds to deliver water supplies. Senate Bill 21-240 appropriated $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for watershed restoration and flood mitigation grants and a statewide watershed analysis. The majority of this funding has gone towards post-fire restoration from the East Troublesome, Cameron Peak, Grizzly Creek, and Calwood Fires.
This year, Governor Polis in partnership with the Colorado state legislature also invested $20 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to conduct wildfire mitigation work to protect watersheds, provide additional funds for DNR’s COSWAP program, and provide technical assistance and local-capacity to secure federal funding for projects that promote watershed and forest resilience. This spring, the US Department of Agriculture also announced significant federal investments in forest management in Colorado. The USFS 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy directs $18.1 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to Colorado National Forests in 2022, and $170.4 million over 2022-2024. Several Colorado projects also secured $6 million through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) this year.