A local nonprofit that started with a mission to educate the public about the mountain pine beetle epidemic in Summit County nearly a decade ago is joining forces with others to define its role in modern forest management.
The Forest Health Task Force (FHTF) conducted the second in a series of meetings intended to coordinate the efforts of the various groups working on forest health, wildfire and emergency preparedness issues throughout the county and state.
“The Forest Health Task Force wants to be more effective in getting the job done, and part of that is understanding what other people are doing and not being redundant or butting heads,” said task force director Howard Hallman.
It’s been about eight years since the task force first met. Since then, about 500 people have attended more than 150 public meetings held on a variety of forest health topics.
“At the beginning people were all excited about the trees turning red,” Hallman said. “They didn’t know what that meant or how bad the situation would be. But over a period of time, conditions have changed. There has been a lot of good work done.”
Even though the mountain pine beetle epidemic is largely over, the need for professional collaboration and public education on forest health issues continues.
“I think it’s important we don’t just drop the ball, (but) continue outreach to the public in terms of emergency preparedness and wildfires in general and what county, state and federal government are doing,” Hallman said.
In addition to Summit residents, more than a dozen representatives of private, municipal, government and nonprofit organizations attended the stakeholder meeting at the County Commons building in Frisco on Wednesday afternoon.
The stakeholders talked about the role collaboratives play bringing groups together to work toward a common goal.
They also looked at the history of other collaborative groups in Colorado.
Jeff Berino, deputy chief for the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District, and Dan Shroder, Colorado State University extension agent, talked about their work with the Summit County Community Wildfire Council, a local collaborative that’s been lauded as a model for other communities. The Community Wildfire Council has helped fund more than $1 million for wildfire mitigation projects throughout the county in the past five years.
Wildfire Council members use the Community Wildfire Protection Plan as a guide for their work, and credit this document for moving projects forward.
“The information came out that if you wanted federal funds or support from greater levels, you would need to create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan,” Shroder said. “In other counties a plan was written and put on the shelf. In Summit we use it as a living document in guiding actions to protect the community against wildfire.”
Hallman inquired whether there could be a role for his organization in the long-term management of areas treated for wildfire mitigation. Berino said he could see the task force working to dovetail with what the Wildfire Council is doing.
“So many local efforts have overlapping or complementary messages that can be brought together and synthesized. I can see those efforts binding the groups together,” Berino said.
Other stakeholders said they, too, would help push the Forest Health Task Force forward to build on forest work already occurring in the community.
Summit County emergency manager Joel Cochran offered advice for Hallman about how to move forward with the effort.
“You need to be thoughtful about the systems that are already going on and be careful not to undermine things that are already going well,” he said. “Be thoughtful and thorough in understanding systems that are already in place and step into the space where there are opportunities.”