A new state program set aside almost $10 million to encourage communities to reduce the risk of wildfire where human development and forested lands overlap.
The Wildfire Risk Reduction Program is focused on projects that reduce the risk for damage to property, infrastructure and water supplies and other endeavors designed to limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas.
County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said the county has benefitted from similar cost-sharing grants in the past, but never before have so many funds been available in one place.
“What makes this really exciting is in past years, we have had approximately a million dollars for these cost-sharing grants,” Gibbs said. “Now we have $9.8 million for the state, which is really amazing.”
Lisa Dale, the assistant director for parks, wildlife and lands at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said this is the first time the state has offered isolated and targeted money for this specific need.
“It’s a 50-50 match. So we will end up being able to put about $20 million worth of work on the landscape,” she said.
The funds will contribute to a significant amount of work in high-risk fire areas, she said. The program, created under Senate Bill 13-269, has garnered wide support because it focuses on preventing, rather than trying to clean up after a catastrophic wildfire, Dale said.
“We have found tremendous bipartisan support for this effort,” she said. “We have a wildfire problem in the state. In the whole scheme of things $10 million is a drop in the bucket.”
Eligible applicants include community groups, local governments, utilities, state agencies and nonprofit groups. Anyone who applies for the grant must be able to contribute 100 percent matching funds, which can include in-kind resources, for a 50-50 grant-to-match ratio.
Those who apply for funds must identify plans to make use of the woody material resulting from the projects, which can include biomass energy and/or traditional forest products. Up to a quarter of the grant money can go toward purchasing equipment that will increase the capacity to remove hazardous material in the future.
Gibbs chairs the Summit County Wildfire Council, an advisory group that includes representatives from local fire districts, the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State University’s cooperative extension and town officials.
“We work hard to all be on the same page when it comes to wildfire mitigation issues,” Gibbs said. “With scarce resources we look at a grant like this and try to figure out how can we leverage additional funding. We are always looking for partnerships where we can get the most bang out of the buck.”
The deadline to receive proposals for the grant is July 17, and awards are anticipated for mid-August. Dale encourages applicants to get their proposals in as early as possible.
“This grant program is really important for the state in my opinion, and really important for Summit County, and we are exploring a possible grant application,” Gibbs said.
“What makes this really exciting is in past years, we have had approximately a million dollars for these cost-sharing grants. Now we have $9.8 million for the state, which is really amazing.”
Summit County commissioner