Polis signs wildfire legislation with potential to benefit Summit County

Gov. Jared Polis signed a few wildfire bills into law June 3 with the potential to impact Summit County. Tax credits for personal wildfire mitigation efforts, millions of dollars pledged for statewide municipal mitigation and increased regulation for controlled burns rounded out the legislation.

As Summit County’s wildfire danger steps up to moderate, and with it being almost four years to the day since the Buffalo Mountain Fire in 2018, here’s a look at recent steps by state lawmakers to control wildfire risks. 

Tax credits for landowners

At a wildfire council meeting in early May, local officials, firefighters and residents talked about finding ways to get “a foot in the door” with neighborhood fire mitigation. Convincing one homeowner to take steps could lead to an entire neighborhood conducting fire mitigation, they said.

Beginning next year, a taxpayer can file for credit if they perform significant wildfire mitigation on their property. Landowners who conduct their own wildfire mitigation can earn up to $625 in tax reimbursements. The Assistance Landowner Wildfire Mitigation bill, or House Bill 1007, gives landowners the chance to get one-quarter of money put towards fire mitigation reimbursed. So $2,500 put toward a project could get a landowner $625 back.

Significant wildfire mitigation means the creation of a defensible space around structures; the establishment of fuel breaks; the thinning of woody vegetation for the primary purpose of reducing risk to structures from wildland fire; or the secondary treatment of woody fuels by lopping and scattering, piling, chipping, removing from the site, or prescribed burning. These activities must meet or exceed any Colorado State Forest Service standards or any other applicable state rules

The tax credit program will begin for the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The landowner must have a federal taxable income at or below $120,000 to qualify.

Additionally, H.B. 1007 will create the wildfire mitigation resources and best practices grant program for government agencies.

$10 million incentives for local governments

The state established the Wildfire Mitigation Incentive for Local Government grant program through the Colorado State Forest Service. The state agency will adopt policies for the program by March of next year for implementation.

On July 1 this year, the state treasurer will transfer $10 million from the general fund to the program’s fund.

The program will fund local governments through grant awards to either match revenue raised by such governments from a dedicated revenue source. It will also provide funding to expand existing programs administered by the local government on a long-term basis to help mitigate wildfires.

Such wildfire mitigation efforts include projects that promote fuel breaks, forest thinning, fuel reductions and outreach and education efforts for residents. The bill leaves the door open for any other wildfire management practices deemed appropriate by the Colorado State Forest Service.

One notable municipal project on the horizon is a project being considered in Frisco that would affect more than 200 acres forests along the town’s southern border. Trees and wildfire fuels would be thinned far into the Miner’s Creek area, beyond the reach of Frisco’s border. Additionally the backyard project would also include improvements to hiking and biking trails in the area.

Regulation and services for wildfire mitigation

A third bill requires landowners to now notify local fire departments before conducting a controlled burn, including slash burns. The bill doesn’t change much in Summit County, according to Red, White & Blue Fire District Deputy Chief Jay Nelson. Since the ’80s, Summit County has had permit programs in place.

“From time to time we have had individuals who have not obtained permits,” he said. “When this occurs, we work to educate the homeowner on the local requirements and ensure that their burning operation is in line with the requirements of our permit process and then issue a permit to them.”

Red, White & Blue already prohibits slash burn permits between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Summit Fire & EMS prohibits open burning between Memorial Day and Labor Day and similarly does not issue slash burn permits during that time.

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