Breckenridge neighborhood included in statewide effort to mitigate wildfires

The intersection of Main Street and Ski Hill Road is pictured Aug. 19, 2021, in downtown Breckenridge.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

The Colorado State Forest Service released its 2021 report about the health of the state’s forests, which details wildfire mitigation projects across the state. One of those partnerships is in Summit County.

In the Warriors Mark neighborhood of Breckenridge, local and state leaders came together to lower the risk of wildfires in that residential zone. According to the report, the project began in November and continued into the following weeks. The neighborhood — located on the south end of town directly east of Breckenridge Ski Resort — had trees removed in order to help reduce the risk of wildfire activity coming into residential areas.

Specifically, both living lodgepole pine trees and trees killed during the mountain pine beetle epidemic were removed from a milelong stretch on ​​White Cloud Drive, including trees near family homes and rental properties. The timber was taken to a sawmill 60 miles away in Parshall to be made into lumber that carpenters use for framing houses and making furniture.

“Putting the harvested trees to use helped offset about $300,000 in treatment costs from the Summit County Strong Future Fund, a voter-approved reserve specifically for mitigation,” the report reads.

Bill Wolf, a Colorado State Forest Service forester and the project lead for the Warriors Mark project, said that collaboration with residents, local leaders and the Forest Service was crucial to getting the project done. Warriors Mark was also marked as one of 27 specific focus areas in Summit County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan. This residential area is also one of 12 focus areas in the Upper Blue River basin.

“If we didn’t have the community support, the project wouldn’t have happened,” Wolf said in the report.

Across the state, other communities are putting in work to lower their risks of wildfires and dangerous spreading into neighborhoods. State leaders are worried about the large amount of dead trees in forests all over Colorado — some killed by spruce beetles and others stressed by increased drought over the past several years. Dry, dead trees become fuel for wildfires in the summer. Low precipitation, paired with warm weather, creates the perfect environment for parasitic beetles, the report reads. According to the state Forest Service, 3,025 acres in Summit, Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Mesa counties are affected by Douglas fir beetles as a result of drought conditions over the past few years.

The state Forest Service estimates in its 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan that over $4.2 billion is needed to restore 2.4 million acres of Colorado’s forests, with over $760 million alone needed for fuels reduction work in high-risk areas of wildland-urban regions.

Matt McCombs, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service, wrote in the report’s introduction that state legislation channeled millions of dollars in state stimulus funds into fuels reduction and forest health projects.

“This is a unique moment for Colorado’s forests,” McCombs wrote. “This report highlights how years of persistent drought, an indicator of a warming climate, have stressed our state’s forests, creating ideal conditions for insect and disease outbreaks and large-scale wildfires. These conditions, combined with a growing population in areas where wildlands intermingle with neighborhoods, warrant bold action to protect our forests and the communities that depend on them.”

According to the latest map from the U.S. Drought Monitor, Summit County is at “moderate drought” intensity. Currently, the entire state of Colorado is considered “abnormally dry,” the lowest level of drought, or worse. A particularly dry February kept local snowpack below the 30-year average, but snowfall in the coming days could help bring the county’s average closer to normal.

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