Opinion | Susan Knopf: We can prevent forest fires | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: We can prevent forest fires

“More than 80% of wildfires are caused by humans,” according to the county’s website. It’s been a week since Stage 1 fire restrictions were enacted, and we’re already entering Stage 2.

“We are a hotter, drier Colorado, and wildfires pose a significant public safety threat to the people in our mountain communities,” Summit County’s state Rep. Julie McCluskie wrote me in a text.

I was at Dillon Reservoir picnicking with a friend, and the earth was so dry it seemed more like late summer than June. We’re in a serious drought.

McCluskie wrote, “The Legislature responded with historic investments in wildfire mitigation, preparedness and response.”

The Legislature is trying to do what it can to help us navigate climate change.

Colorado HB21-1008 helps us create new fire prevention districts to develop financing to promote forest health. It also “authorizes the Colorado water resources power and development authority to issue bonds to fund watershed protection projects and forest health projects” for another 10 years.

Colorado SB21-113 authorizes nearly $31 million in firefighting aviation support. It pays for the purchase of a Firehawk helicopter and the lease of another Type 1 helicopter, both configured for wildfire mitigation. The money pays to run the choppers.

The bill also authorizes the distribution of money from the Wildfire Emergency Preparedness Fund to local county sheriffs, municipal fire departments and fire protection districts for wildfire suppression.

Colorado Sen. Bob Rankin and McCluskie co-sponsored SB21-166. Just over $1 million is being allocated to implement wildfire mitigation efforts. The bill creates structure, accountability and channels of coordination and communication to improve wildfire mitigation.

McCluskie wrote, “I’m proud of these bills and will continue to partner with state and federal agencies in addressing the state’s wildfires.”

Rankin also co-sponsored SB21-258, the Wildfire Risk Mitigation bill. The bill shuffles nearly $30 million from parts of the state budget to make sure state and local agencies have the funds they need for fire mitigation and firefighting.

The bill creates two funds: The wildfire mitigation capacity fund will appropriate funds to the Department of Natural Resources to support wildfire related projects. The second fund is the hazard mitigation fund, which will help local jurisdictions like Summit County “obtain … matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.”

Historically, we depended on the federal government to help mitigate fire in our forests. This bill allows us to do fire mitigation on federal land so long as it is contiguous with lands we manage and the area is not larger than the local areas being managed.

The bill increases the amount the Colorado State Forest Service can spend on fire-risk mitigation and forest restoration. It also authorizes the hiring of more full-time people to implement “community wildfire protection plans and collaborative landscape level prioritization plans; developing and implementing risk mitigation; and watershed restoration plans.”

For the record, it’s about time! We always worry that more public money means more public waste. We have to hope the money gets to the right place to do the job. We’ve already seen fires in our area, and the community fear is running high.

I know Rankin and McCluskie are very conservative with public funds. I trust them to do the right thing.

The question is: Will we do the right thing?

We need all our citizens and visitors to be sentinels. We must all be vigilant if we are to save our community from wildfire.

The county website says:

  • No open fires, even with a permit
  • No smoking except in designated areas or in your car — that includes cannabis
  • No fireworks or explosives
  • No chain saws, except if they have a certified spark arrester
  • No blasting, grinding, welding or using an acetylene or other torch with an open flame, except in a cleared area with a fire extinguisher

Only we can prevent wildfires!

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