DILLON - Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service are tackling forest restoration by splitting a $33 million commitment to treat 38,000 acres of forest land over the next five years.
The work is intended to protect critical watersheds against catastrophic wildfires in areas impacted by mountain pine beetle, as well as other tree-killing infestations.
Officials from several levels of government gathered with people from Denver Water and other organizations Saturday morning for the announcement at the shore of Dillon Reservoir.
Harris Sherman, U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, said the agreement is "critical to forest restoration."
The finances evenly split between the USFS and Denver Water are to thin dead forests, create firebreaks and address erosion issues, among other efforts.
Areas treated are to be include the Blue River watershed as well as forests upstream of Strontia Springs, Gross, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman reservoirs.
Colorado has about 3 million acres of dead trees - amid 17-18 million across the West - because of beetle infestation. Sherman said the problem relates to past fire suppression efforts and climate change.
This causes increased risk of wildfire.
"Fire has a corresponding impact of the health of watersheds," he said.
Denver Water CEO and manager Jim Lochhead said the finances will "reduce wildfire risks in priority watersheds."
Sherman spoke of past fires in the state causing 10s of millions of dollars in restoration efforts. The agreement announced Saturday is the first significant partnership between a major water provider and the Forest Service.
He said hopefully the trees may be used for logging, milling or bio-energy.
It's a template Sherman said he would like to take to other areas, with electric companies and ski resorts - both of which would face significant losses from wildfires - to join similar cooperative efforts.
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.