Beetle Kill 2009: New legislation could help homeowners bear cost of tree removal
May 8, 2009
Removing beetle-killed trees can be a costly undertaking with little state and federal help to individual landowners.
Much of the forest-related legislation the Colorado Assembly has been reviewing this session focuses on organizing the command of wildfires, addressing firefighter liability and establishing guidelines for community wildfire protection plans. In many cases, forest wildfire-related legislation that required appropriations was sidelined due to major strains on the state budget.
But one bill that foresters are watching is the Colorado Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Act of 2009, HB-1199.
The bill, which passed the House and is now in Senate committee, would use Severance Tax Trust Fund money and a cash fund created from the 2008 Healthy Forests bill to apply $3 million in 2009-20010 and $75 million during the year following to help communities with wildfire preparation.
Some funds would be used toward cost-share grants to landowners in the wildland-urban interfaces. The bill also concentrates on forest restoration projects that help protect watersheds, sets aside funds for loans toward the use of beetle-killed timber such as bio-mass heating, and provides business start-up capital for businesses that make use of harvested wood.
In terms of other legislation, private landowners should be aware of one direct source that helps individuals face the financial strain of the beetle-kill epidemic, especially in these challenging economic times.
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The help comes from a bill passed last year ” HB-1110.
With this legislation, homeowners may claim a maximum $2,500 in deductions on tree work done in “urban interface” areas of Colorado, or places where public forests border communities.
The deduction applies to work focused on making homes safer in the event of wildfire. Certified by the Colorado Department of Revenue, the deduction would apply to work done from January 2009 to 2014.
“Work” can be defined as what is needed to make homes more FireWise, such as creating defensible space, developing emergency exits, establishing a viable water supply for fire-fighting, protecting home interiors with sprinklers, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and updating homes with more fire-resistant materials.
The law states that 50 percent of the total cost of creating wildfire defenses can be used for the deduction, up to $2,500. (In other words, if $500 is spent on mitigation work, $250 would qualify for the state-tax deduction.) Only one income-tax filer per household may claim the deduction.
It’s one of the first bills that targets private landowners who live where there is a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in place. The state believes 94,739 households are within wildland urban interface zones, and 75 percent of those households are in areas where there are such plans. In Middle Park, the Grand Lake fire district, Grand County and the Upper Fraser Valley fire district all have necessary plans in place, with the Granby fire district (Grand No.1) next to complete its plan. These plans qualify many Grand County property owners for the tax break.
It’s estimated the bill will cost the state $411,000 in the first fiscal year of the program (because the program starts halfway through the fiscal year), and $822,000 each year after that.
The bill is intended to encourage wildfire defense work that meets standards of the Colorado State Forest Service, and the deduction does not apply to work completed by the landowner.
The bill also was not intended to reimburse individuals for planting trees, according to State Forester Ron Cousineau, or simply removing beetle-kill trees unless the removal promotes defensible space.
“I do think $2,500 is a great amount,” said Cousineau. “It’s probably not enough to treat a 3-acre lot, but it is a positive impact on most folks who have a 1- to 2- acre lot.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.