1,810 Summit County residences participate in 8th annual wildfire mitigation chipping program | SummitDaily.com

1,810 Summit County residences participate in 8th annual wildfire mitigation chipping program

Wood piles are placed on the road for collection during this year's chipping program.
Photo from Dan Schroder / Colorado State University Extension

Homeowners encouraged to review property annually to clean debris from roofs, gutters and around structures

The 2021 Summit County Chipping Program season has come and gone, with more than 1,800 households stepping up to help protect their neighborhoods and the community at large from the ever-looming threat of wildfires.

This year, a total of 1,810 residences participated in the program, most from unincorporated Summit County (1,011), followed by Silverthorne (259), Breckenridge (243), Frisco (132), Blue River (125), Dillon (39) and Montezuma (1).

The total is somewhat middling for the program, and a decline from 2020 numbers in which 2,215 households participated, but officials say they’re excited about the number of individuals still taking part eight years after the program’s inception.

“(This year) was about in the midrange,” Colorado State University Extension Director Dan Schroder said. “We’ve had at the low point about 1,600 participating households, and at the high end, we’ve had 2,200 participating households. So we remain on track with prior years’ levels, and that supports the entire effort. That’s how much interest remains.”

Schroder said some natural fluctuation in participation numbers is expected year to year in large part because community members who’ve taken part over the past couple of years may have some time until their troublesome fuel loads return. Schroder recommends all homeowners review their property annually to clean debris from their roofs, gutters and around structures to maintain the effort they put into the chipping program in years past.

Schroder said the program would continue to operate as long as participation stays high. Over the past eight years, he said the county has hauled off more than 16,000 piles of hazardous fuels from at least 7,000 independent residences. Coming into this year, the program had collected about 37,000 cubic yards of wood-chip material. Schroder said a final tally on this year’s numbers likely wouldn’t be completed until mid-October.

All of the biomass collected is handed over to the Climax Mine south of Copper Mountain, which incorporates the woody material into its compost program to support mine-waste cleanup, what Schroder called a beneficial end use for the material.

In addition to the chipping program, Schroder said work has already begun on 10 wildfire mitigation projects as part of the county’s Hazardous Fuels Reduction Grant program and Community Wildfire Protection Plan Implementation Grant program.

Wood piles are placed on the road for collection during this year's chipping program.
Photo from Dan Schroder / Colorado State University Extension

To date, Schroder said county taxpayers have funded more than 190 mitigation efforts to the tune of about $4 million through the grant programs since 2009, but through matching funds, the county has seen about $10 million of actual work come out of the programs.

Schroder said the purpose of the chipping and grant programs is twofold: to keep community members thinking about wildfire preparedness throughout the season and to ensure they have the resources necessary to make meaningful changes.

“I believe the programs that we do have multiple priorities,” Schroder said. “The first priority is education. We want to keep the topic of wildfire prevention and community protection on people’s minds rather than having that trickle its way through the mind filter. … Secondly, we’ve across the board given people an opportunity to act. These grant programs and the chipping program offer the residents an outlet. It’s not just information, but it’s actionable effort.

“Finally, in this whole arena, the evaluation loop says that the information, that education part, was actually received. We know it was received because of the number of participants.”

Schroder said 2021 represents another positive year for residents working to build a safer county. But community members shouldn’t get complacent with the work that’s already been done, and improving wildfire preparedness needs to be a constant effort.

“The fires in the West remind us that our forested landscape is also prone to wildfire, and it’s imperative that we, as a community, continue to actively address wildfire prevention to protect three things: life, property and infrastructure,” Schroder said. “… This is not a one-time effort. Every single year, we need to reengage, because it could happen at any time. We say it’s not if but when. And if we’re ready, we’re more likely to come out better off than worse off.”

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