Summit County chipping program begins fourth season
Fire danger throughout the county was elevated from moderate to high last week and local officials are imploring residents to do their part and safeguard their homes and neighborhoods with an ongoing tree chipping service running through the summer.
The free countywide program, paid for with fire mitigation funds approved by taxpayers in 2008, kicked off Monday in Frisco and Copper Mountain communities. Residents who wish to take the advice of area fire districts and create defensible space around their properties can leave chopped trees, branches and logs stacked near the roadway for processing.
“I like to look at it as positive by association and cultural conditioning where you want to do it, all in the name of community protection and wildfire prevention,” said Dan Schroder, CSU Extension’s director for Summit County. “But if one neighbor doesn’t do it, they may well burn down the rest of them.”
So far, now into the program’s fourth season, the neighborly persuasion has worked. During the three years before it, 5,430 households have participated — roughly 80 percent of the county’s estimated 7,000 owner-occupied units — with more than 16,000 total cubic yards of material chipped and removed as possible fuel for an out-of-control blaze.
In Summit’s heavily forested landscape, with zones where urban frequently meets wildlands, experts state that defensible space is a property owner’s best chance at reducing the chance of their home going up in smoke if flames draw near. A 10-foot ring between the structure and flammable vegetation, thinned foliage out to 30 feet and decreased forest canopy as far out as 100 feet are common recommendations.
By offering the chipping operation at no charge, the idea is that there’s no excuse for avoiding participation.
“When you look at the expense of hauling that stuff away and everything like that, and the inconvenience of doing it, it was something that I’m sure a lot of people were like, ‘I should do it, but I’m not going to put in that type of effort, that type of investment,’” said Steve Lipsher, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. “So we brought it right to their homes, right to their curb. Do some good work on behalf of the entire community and you’ll benefit from it, because it’s free.”
Once the wood is broken down into smaller chunks on site, the contractor then delivers it to one of three storage areas in Breckenridge, Dillon and Silverthorne. The mounds will grow through the operation’s final week in September before it is removed through October up to the Climax Mine west of Copper Mountain to be used as woody biomass for land reclamation.
After runoff tailings from the extraction of molyndenum leach into a nearby pond, that waste needs proper disposal and clean-up. The chips, which Climax buys from the county — at a nominal fee that also covers the cost of another contractor to deliver the materials to the mine — are used like a sponge to soak up the contamination.
The biomass plant in Gypsum used to take the chips from the county to burn as energy before it shut down in late-2014. Once it got back online, the plant decided the materials weren’t pure enough for its purposes and the county went looking for a different consumer, and was pleased to find another local buyer.
“Finding an outlet for chips is exceedingly difficult,” said Schroder. “Worst-case it’s a double-negative where there’s a financial loss and it all goes to the landfill, because no other outlet in the state of Colorado wants our chips. So being able to put them to a beneficial use locally here in Summit County, with no major diesel costs to ship it somewhere — and with a micro-revenue component — is huge.”
Based on the composition of Summit, more of the materials each year tend to come out of the southern section of the county, where forest is densest in Breckenridge and Blue River. Silverthorne and Dillon in the northern end have fewer trees so typically produce less volume, and Bill’s Ranch makes up the bulk of what comes out of Frisco.
All residents have to do to take advantage of the program is neatly load their discarded trees and branches, without bags or nails and wire, up to 9 inches in diameter in 5-by-5-by-5 slash piles at the edge of the road. If you desire to keep your chips for landscaping purposes, simply tie a red string or prominent flag on the materials.
No willows or cottonwoods are accepted, as each can clog the chipping equipment and because both do not necessarily contribute to the spread of wildfires. Building materials, stumps, grass clippings, weeds and bags of leaves will not be collected.
Piles must be stacked by 8 a.m. on Monday for the week of the designated neighborhood so crews can come through and plan efficient routes. If you miss the deadline, don’t fret, a second scheduled opportunity will be through each neighborhood later in the summer.
For a full list of the county chipping schedule, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/chipping, or call 970-668-4140.
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