Dillon Ranger District partners with state forest service to expand wildfire mitigation work

The Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest and the Colorado State Forest Service are partnering up to increase the scope and scale of wildfire risk reduction efforts in the area.

The partnership — which also includes Summit County and The Nature Conservancy — comes as a result of the newly passed Good Neighbor Authority Program, part of the 2018 Farm Bill, that allows the U.S. Forest Service to enter into agreements with state forest agencies in order to implement wildland fuels reduction and forest health projects across land ownership boundaries.

“We know the work we’re trying to accomplish in Summit County and in the White River National Forest,” said Bill Jackson, district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District. “And the state forest service does very similar work on private and county lands. So we’re embarking on this to work together through this authority. … This will allow us to get work done a little quicker by being able to leverage another agency to help us get the work done on the ground.”

Under the partnership, Jackson noted that the group already has a number of fuels reduction projects scheduled in 2019 and 2020, primarily targeted in the wildland-urban interface, which will allow the state forest service to work with nearby private landowners to increase the size of the mitigation efforts.

But for now, the three major projects outlined for the next year include a 43-acre site at Peak 7 near the Airport Road and Barton Road intersection in Breckenridge, a 42-acre site near Miners Creek south of Frisco and a 100-acre site near Prospect Hill in Breckenridge.

The projects will be funded with the help of Summit County’s 1A initiative passed by voters last year, which allocates $1 million a year for wildfire mitigation projects. Though Jackson noted that other partners, in addition to the county and forest service, have also stepped up to the plate to help fund the projects.

“Really since late winter and early spring we’ve been working with all these entities to get these agreements executed,” said Jackson. “So we’ve done that with Summit County, the state forest service, The Nature Conservancy and we have that multiyear deal with Denver Water. There’s a lot of different entities that are doing a lot of work in Summit County to minimize that fire risk, improve the health of the forest and ecosystem, protect properties and improve watershed conditions. So a lot of things came together in this last year, and the culmination has been the signing of these agreements.”

The U.S. Forest Service has been working with Denver Water for a number of years as part of the From Forest to Faucets program, a watershed management partnership to help mitigate wildfires.

Jackson says the increase in mitigation work could pay big dividends in combatting any future wildfires. Past efforts helped fighting the Buffalo Mountain Fire last year.

“No one can guarantee that fuel breaks will stop fires from ever happening,” said Jackson. “But they can certainly help modify fire behavior. We saw that with the Buffalo Fire, and other fires in the state just last year.

“When these wildfires hit an area that’s been cleared or thinned that behavior lessens. Not only that, but firefighters were able to engage that fire safely because of those fuel breaks, we were able to get hose lay in there, it gave first responders time to evacuate, and those breaks gave our pilots a visual cue for where to lay down retardant. So there are a lot of benefits.”

In addition to an increase in fuel reduction work, the bump in funding to the Dillon Ranger District will also increase the district’s internal capacity to plan and implement wildfire risk reduction activities. The district is planning on adding a new fuels planner position to coordinate wildland fuels reduction projects across the district, and funds have already been allocated to hire fire suppression and fuels crews from across the region to help with cutting and piling of trees targeted for removal.

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