Recent controlled burns in the valley, and Envision’s Forest Health Council’s leadership in promoting the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, prompts us to lend our voices in support of this proactive approach to helping protect our homes and our public lands from destructive wildfire.

The northern county subdivision in which we live within a pinyon-juniper woodland may provide a lesson in how citizens can work together while partnering with county, state and federal agencies in wildfire protection. 

Two decades ago, a few of our residents educated themselves on the value of defensible space and removing ladder fuels – dead branches that can transmit flame to the canopy – on our private properties. Recognizing there’s greater value if one’s neighbors take similar action, we worked through our Property Owners Association to gain consensus on getting defensible space within our entire subdivision’s 44 properties.

During consensus building we were extremely well-advised and supported by the Colorado State Forest Service, who educated us at association meetings, and did free wildfire risk assessments on individual properties.

Eventually CSFS led us through development and approval of our Subdivision Wildfire Protection Plan, which covers reducing risk, planning safety strategies and facilitating entry of emergency equipment. An added benefit of an approved plan meant we qualified to apply for state-sponsored grants.

Among other benefits, these grants provided us reimbursement of 50% of payments for chipper rental or other expenses and could even be used to subsidize hourly labor contributed by owners. Perhaps most significant was this process resulted in a strong community sense of commitment, demonstrated by annual cutting and removal or chipping workdays, and neighbors reaching out to non-resident owners or others who can’t physically do the work, so that by the end of 2019 the large majority of our properties have gone through the defensible space process.

In recognition that work within the subdivision would provide even greater resistance to wildfire if similar treatments were done on adjacent public land, our application for the CSFS grant encouraged the BLM to prioritize their efforts along our boundaries, and boundaries of a nearby subdivision and parcels of private land. This eventually resulted in two BLM cut/stack and (later) burn projects covering more than 300 acres, the latest of which was successfully completed with controlled burns January 6 and 7. 

We want to express our sincere thanks and appreciation for the highly professional work provided by all partners in this process, from the subdivision’s Board, to the Colorado State Forest Service technical advisers, to the dedicated BLM project planners, supervisors and on-the-ground burn crew.

The Community Wildfire Protection Plan now being developed (see envisionchaffeecounty.org) maps where to treat 30,000 acres of public and private lands for the highest impact, as well as encouraging individual citizens to become involved on their own properties. We are pleased to note this initiative in many ways parallels the history of our subdivision’s wildfire protection efforts, and is a welcome sign that working together, we can have a big impact!

Alan Robinson

Bob Box

Mt. Harvard Estates

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