Guest column: Forest health: Where’s the money?
With the lion’s share of beetle kill occurring on public lands in Summit County, be they under Federal, state, county or municipal ownership, how is government responding to a critical need to finance fire mitigation, forest landscape restoration and watershed protection projects? Here is the status of several current forest health policy initiatives in Summit County:The Summit Board of County Commissioners has instituted a cost-share grant program targeting areas where the risk of wildfire to homes and other community infrastructure is the greatest and is working with homeowners within those identified focus areas to reduce that risk. The Council has identified 18 such areas in the county weighing the following factors: amount and type of hazardous fuels present; number of homes in proximity to forested areas at risk for fire; accessibility for fire equipment and personnel to contain a wildfire; proximity to potential ignition sources; and other community values (i.e., watersheds).The Board has created a pool of $140,000, of which $40,000 is a contribution from the Federal government, to help fund privately-managed fuel reduction efforts under the supervision of the Summit County Fire Council this year. These dollars must be leveraged with commitments from homeowners and other private sources or government entities.These are the four specific criteria for funding: The subdivision is within one of the 18 areas identified through the county’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan mapping process as an “area of focus”; Substantial private matching funds are offered; The project will significantly reduce the risk of wildfire and the risk to life and structures; and The project is ready to go.The Council has just signed off on grants totaling $76,123 for seven projects to be completed this year. Applications for a second round of grants are due by June 15. Further information about the grant program is available from Patti Maguire, Summit County Wildfire Mitigation Officer, at (970) 513-4237, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. In Colorado:The Colorado Forest Restoration Act (House Bill 07-1130) is due to be signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter this month, and would authorize a pilot program to demonstrate community-based approaches to forest restoration. The act transfers $1 million from the perpetual base account of the severance tax trust fund in the department of natural resources to experimental forest restoration projects designed through a “collaborative community process.” The projects may be entirely on, or on any combination of, private, Federal, state, county or municipal forest lands, with the state share not to exceed 60 percent of the total cost of the project. The remaining portion of the project funding may be in the form of cash, stumpage or in-kind contribution.Grant eligibility will be based upon: 1) project location within an approved Community Wildfire Protection Plan; 2) meeting one or more of the following objectives for protecting watersheds and water supplies: reducing the threat of large, high-intensity wildfires and the negative effects of excessive competition between tress by restoring ecosystem functions, structures and species composition, including the reduction of non-native species populations; preserving old and large trees to the extent consistent with ecological values and science; replanting trees in deforested areas if such areas exist in the proposed project area; improving the use of, or add value to small diameter trees.The Colorado Forest Improvement District Act (House Bill 07-1168), which became law on April 9, allows the governing body of a county or municipality (commission or town council) to enact an ordinance creating a special taxing district to: plan and implement forest improvement projects in wildland-urban interface areas, including projects to reduce hazardous fuels and protect communities; establish financial incentives for private landowners to mitigate wildfire risks on their property; establish incentives for local wood products industries to improve the use of or add value to small-diameter or beetle-infested trees; match state and Federal grants for bioheating conversion and infrastructure support for biomass collection and delivery; and assist the Colorado State Forest service in ensuring all communities at risk within the district have adopted a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.Under this act, communities may elect to establish a uniform sales tax, subject to voter approval, that will be administered by a seven member or more board of directors. The governing body of each county or municipality in the district shall have the power to appoint at least one director as will the Colorado State Forest Service. The board will also include at least one representative of: an environmental protection organization; a conservation district; a water conservancy district; a Federal land management agency. Sandy Briggs is an organizer with Summit County-based Mountain Pine Beetle Task Force.
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