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State grants $1 million for wildfire mitigation projects in Montezuma County

Colorado has awarded $1 million to the Mancos Conservation District and forest health partners to mitigate wildfire danger on private lands, including beetle kill trees. (Courtesy photo)
Mancos Conservation District awarded funds

The Mancos Conservation District has been awarded $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to conduct wildfire mitigation projects in Montezuma County.

The grant and projects are in partnership with the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative, Wildfire Adapted Partnership and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

The goal is to provide targeted wildfire risk mitigation on private lands in the Jackson Lake and Summit Lake areas of the county, said Gretchen Rank, director of the Mancos Conservation District.

“We are so thrilled for this great opportunity to implement community-based wildfire resilience projects in these high-risk neighborhoods,” Rank said. “We’re encouraging landowners to reach out, get on the list and start the process.”

The Jackson and Summit Lake areas are considered two of the highest risk areas in the county because of heavy buildup of fuels, dead standing trees from drought and beetle kill, multiple residential neighborhoods, limited access and egress, critical infrastructure and proximity to sensitive watersheds.

Projects will be implemented over the next three years and involve cost shares with private land owners.

The scope of work includes reducing fuels, increasing defensible space around homes, reducing fuels along important access and evacuation routes, supporting pile burning, timber thinning projects on private lands and the Ute Mountain Ute Adams Ranch and strategic fuel breaks for community safety.

Wildfire mitigation in wooded private lands is more difficult because it can be cost prohibitive for the landowner, said Danny Margoles, director of DWRF.

The state funding allows for more landowners to participate in the cost-sharing programs that will get the work done to reduce severe wildfire risk, and save people and property if there is a fire, he said.

He credits the successful grant application to a broad group of local stakeholders who have been implementing wildfire mitigation projects in Southwest Colorado for many years, Margoles said.

“We have a lot of momentum. The groundwork has been laid, studies have been done on priority areas, the cost share programs are there, and contractors in place,” he said.

The specific funding targeting the higher risk areas of Jackson and Summit Lakes is a big step forward, but it does not put an end to wildfire mitigation needs in the area, Margoles said.

“There are many other private lands that need this work, and there are many opportunities out there to help get the work done,” he said.

Mitigation project areas are being developed by the various partners through DWARF and the Rocky Mountain Restorative Initiative. It will complement fuels reduction work on adjacent federal, state and tribal lands.

In 2019, Southwest Colorado was chosen by RMRI as a focus for funding of forest restoration projects, watershed protection and wildfire prevention.

The $1 million award from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources is part of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program.

Landowners interested in wildfire mitigation are encouraged to reach out to the following organizations.

  • The Mancos Conservation District: Gretchen Rank, (970) 533-7317, mancoscd1@gmail.com.
  • Wildfire Adapted Partnership: (970) 385-8909. The website is www.wildfireadapted.org.
  • The Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative: Danny Margoles, (952) 457-8586, coordinator@dwrfcollaborative.org.
  • The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Environmental Program, Scott Clow, (970) 564-5430, sclow@utemountain.org.
  • The Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative: Jason Lawhon, (720) 537-1151, jason.lawhon@usda.gov, Patt Dorsey, (303) 775-6902, pdorsey@nwtf.net.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com