Colorado State Forest Service receives funds for wildfire mitigation near watersheds in Fraser Valley |

Colorado State Forest Service receives funds for wildfire mitigation near watersheds in Fraser Valley

Heavy machinery removes dead trees in an aspen forest in Sheep Mountain in Fraser. Funds from House Bill 22-1379 will be used to mitigate wildfire risk in the Sheep Mountain area, which provides water to Fraser, Winter Park and Denver residents.
Colorado State Forest Service/Courtesy Photo

For 80% of Coloradans, their water starts in the state’s forests before making its way downstream to their taps. Clean water is intrinsically tied to forest health.

The Colorado State Forest Service announced in a news release that the Colorado Legislature has passed House Bill 22-1379 to fund wildfire fuels reduction around high-priority watersheds and water infrastructure, including in Grand County. Millions of people in Colorado and around the U.S. rely on water from the Colorado River, which flows from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park.

In addition to Grand County, two other locations will receive $1 million in funds from HB 22-1379: Staunton State Park in Park and Jefferson counties, and the north slope of Pikes Peak in Teller County.

“We are excited to put these funds provided by the legislature to work in high-priority areas where an uncharacteristic wildfire could significantly impact water supplies and infrastructure,” said Weston Toll, a state forest service watershed program specialist, in a news release. “All three projects connect to prior fuels reduction work completed by the CSFS and our partners, so we can make an impact on a large scale in our forests.”

The fuels reduction work in the Fraser Valley is expected to be complete by Dec. 15; logging in the area began in November 2020.

The project is intended to lower the risk of wildfire to water supplies for Denver and the towns of Fraser and Winter Park by reducing fuels on Sheep Mountain, about 5 miles west of Fraser.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are working together on the project to remove hazardous trees. The targeted area is on U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water and private lands.

“These projects are critical for watershed health and source water protection for Denver Water and our 1.5 million customers. Healthy forests equal healthy watersheds,” said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist with Denver Water, in the news release. “Denver Water is so grateful for the partnerships and collaboration that make these projects possible.”

The completion will connect several prior treatment areas to establish a connected, large-scale fuel break that would help allow firefighters to engage a wildfire in the event of a fire. During the Williams Fork Fire in 2020, the project area was identified as a wildfire risk that could spread into the densely populated Fraser Valley.

The Grand County Wildfire Council identified the project area as a high priority through planning efforts by the Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Water, Grand County government and local fire departments.

“Thank you to the Colorado Legislature for making the $3 million available for this important work and to our many partners for working alongside the Colorado State Forest Service on these projects,” Toll stated in the release. “Together, we are making a landscape-level impact and leveraging our collective resources toward the goal of lowering wildfire risk to water supplies and protecting one of our state’s most precious resources.”

The Forest Service will monitor the project work in future years to evaluate its impact and efficacy. All three projects allow the Forest Service and its partners to achieve goals identified in their 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan which targets at-risk areas like Sheep Mountain.

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