Forest Health Task Force discusses federal forest health funding |

Forest Health Task Force discusses federal forest health funding

A crew executes a fuels reduction project above the Wellington neighborhood in Breckenridge. In the coming years, Summit County projects could see some of the $3.37 billion of federal funding aimed to be spent on “wildfire risk reduction.”
Ashley Garrison/Colorado State Forest Service

Last year, the federal government passed an appropriations bill that includes investments in natural resources and management across the country. On Wednesday, the Forest Health Task Force discussed where those dollars are going, and how they could impact local public lands.

In late 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, legislation that includes around $550 billion in federal investment in America’s roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, internet and other departments in the U.S. As part of the massive spending bill, natural resources across the country will receive several billion dollars.

Brad Piehl, a forest hydrologist and member of the Forest Health Task Force, presented several key points of the federal bill’s investment in wildfire and forest health. In the bill, $3.37 billion will go to the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and the United States Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, for “wildfire risk reduction.” These funds will be appropriated from fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

“There’s so many programs, and there’s so much money,” Piehl said. “It’s going to different agencies, different pots of money. It’s just all over the place, and it’s pretty hard to get your head around what it really means.”

Part of the bill’s goal is to conduct restoration treatments and improve the Fire Regime Condition Class of 10 million acres that are located in the wildland-urban interface or areas that have a public drinking water source. In total, the Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public forests and grasslands nationwide.

“There’s going to be $200 million for post-fire restoration, and since I’ve been involved in (post-fire mitigation), I spend a good chunk of that on one fire — just for perspective,” Piehl said.

For those restoration funds, the bill outlines that any funding has to be used within three years of the fire’s containment. Half of that will go to the Department of the Interior and the other half will go to the Department of Agriculture. Of the USDA’s share, $8 million will go to providing feedstock and financial assistance to firewood banks, and $10 million “shall be available to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture for the procurement and placement of wildfire detection and real-time monitoring equipment, such as sensors, cameras and other relevant equipment, in areas at risk of wildfire or post-burned areas,” the bill reads.

“There was some other work that needed to be done after (East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires) ended, but the post-fire actions — that there was money available for — was $6 million for each fire,” Piehl said. “That’s still a fair amount of money, but we’re looking at just some of the restoration work that we’re doing and the need is more like $35 or $40 million.”

Other investments include $500 million for planning and conducting prescribed burns, another $200 million for crews of laborers to modify and remove flammable vegetation on federal land and $600 million “for the salaries and expenses of Federal wildland firefighters.”

Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said in collaboration with other federal, state and local agencies, the Forest Service identified 10 high-risk landscapes in eight states. Colorado has one of those landscapes on the Colorado Front Range for the first round of funding and implementation in 2022.

“In selecting these landscapes for initial investment, the Forest Service considered where (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) investments could reduce exposure of people, communities and natural resources to the risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Bianchi said. “Other national forests, like the White River National Forest, may be identified for fuels reduction work through other funding sources and reconsidered for future rounds of (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) investments.”

On Saturday, Summit Fire and EMS will host its first-ever Summit County Wildfire Parley from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Summit Middle School, 158 School Road, in Frisco. Attendees can sign up for free home wildfire evaluations, learn about creating defensible space around the home, learn from others’ experiences with past wildfires and prepare for the wildfire season. The event will cover the basics of emergency evacuation.

The Forest Health Task Force’s next meeting will be June 15, and the public is invited to attend for a presentation on sustainability at the local level. The meeting is from Noon to 1 p.m. at the Summit County Community and Senior Center at 83 Nancy’s Place in Frisco.

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