Shaver Kuehn wildfire mitigators

J.T. Shaver, left, and Josh Kuehn, foresters with the Colorado State Forest Service Salida Field Office, load a pile of trimmed branches into a chipper Friday during the Chaffee Chips slash haul-away event in Game Trail. About 180 piles of slash created by homeowners were removed from roadsides and driveways within the subdivision, which is in the wildland-urban interface northwest of Buena Vista. Three additional Chaffee Chips events are scheduled this year on the Shavano Front, the east side of Methodist Mountain and in Mesa Antero Estates.

Chaffee County is among 25 counties, 42 projects, to receive funding under the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation program from the Colorado State Forest Service.

The announcement was made by Gov. Jared Polis recently.

The state program is awarding $6.4 million.

Polis signed the bill that appropriated $6 million for this grant cycle and the bill that both increased and stabilized funds up to $8 million for the program in years to come.   

Friends of Chaffee County Fire Protection District will receive $145,000 for the Chaffee Chips operation, and Chaffee County will receive $153,446 for the Chaffee County Fire Mitigation Program.

“We are thrilled to see Common Ground revenues being leveraged with support from the state for additional wildfire resiliency projects across Chaffee County. These funds will help create five new fuel breaks in strategic locations as identified in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan and help ensure that Chaffee Chips continues to assist homeowners in removing wood slash from their properties,” Kim Marquis, outreach coordinator for Envision Chaffee County and the Forest Health Council, said.

Earlier this year Common Ground awarded a $93,600 three-year grant so Chaffee Chips could be offered  through 2023, providing a match to the Colorado Forest Service program grant.  

Common Ground money from the county 0.25 percent sales tax helps the county to be more competitive in winning highly sought-after state and federal money.

“Funders want to see that the community is working together, organized and has skin in the game,” Marquis said.

Last year about $70,000 was spent on the Chaffee Chips program. A $34,000 grant from the Chaffee County Fire Protection District from Common Ground in 2020 paid for the trailers they continue to use, Marquis said.

That grant included in-kind from the county for landfill fees and use of the tub grinder.

The balance cost to set up and promote the new program in 2020 came from the three-year community wildfire protection plan implementation grant from Common Ground.

During 2020 185 landowners participated and nearly 500 piles of slash were removed from the wild urban interface.

The program serviced four neighborhoods in 2020 and will cover four new neighborhoods this year. Service areas are chosen by the Forest Health Council and are based on the community wildfire protection plan.

The four service events this year will be held at the Game Trail, West-plus side; Mesa Antero Estates, north and south; Shavano Front, Weldon Creek, Eureka Ranch, Hayden Springs, Eagle Moon; and Methodist Mountain east side.

Chaffee Chips started a required slash pile registration this year, Marquis said. So far about 70 property owners have registered 225 piles and done 600-plus hours (self reported) of work making the piles in prep for the service events.

Property owners interested in Chaffee Chips can go to the website page to see if they are in the 2021 service area. They can also contact Marquis by email at kim@envisionchaffeecounty.org.

To set up a free property assessment by a Colorado State Forest Service forester, a good way to find out what’s needed to get started, call 719-539-2579.

The governor’s office reported that 12 of the 42 projects receiving the grant funding are in areas with fewer economic resources.

Projects that received funding are in Alamosa, Archuleta, Boulder, Chaffee, Clear Creek, Custer, Douglas, El Paso, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, Huerfano, Jefferson, La Plata, Larimer, Las Animas, Mesa, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Park, Pueblo, Routt, San Miguel and Teller counties.

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