Colorado Department of Natural Resources expressed support for legislation today which delivers on the Colorado Recovery Plan’s commitment to protect communities and create jobs, by investing $25 million in targeted wildfire risk mitigation, recovery, and workforce development.
SB21-258, which passed unanimously out of the Senate Local Government committee, marks a significant one-time, strategic investment to jumpstart work on wildfire mitigation in targeted locations that connect fuels treatments at landscape-scales to protect communities.
“Colorado's wildfire crisis is at a critical juncture and immediate decisive action is necessary to protect lives, homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Although Colorado has been and remains committed to taking meaningful action to mitigate wildfire risk, past efforts have lacked the coordination, landscape-scale focus, and robust state investment required to properly address the size and behavior of catastrophic wildfires. The legislation proposed today will quickly move resources to on the ground projects with a focus on protecting communities, watersheds and improving forest health.”
The legislation involves interagency cooperation and collaboration to quickly move resources and workforces to shovel ready projects, as well as identify priority areas for planning. This bill addresses the need to assess risk, plan and implement wildfire risk mitigation projects, expands workforce capacity through investments in the Colorado Youth Corps Association and the Department of Corrections, invests in the development of the forest products industry, and enhances the capacity and flexibility of programs at the Colorado State Forest Service. This bill also creates the hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
Key components for the legislation include:
- The deployment of a US Forest Service team to help identify the most critical landscapes in the state for wildfire mitigation and fuels reduction projects.
- Increase the size of the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT) program to include up to 160 members and expand the focus of the program on forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work.
- Support wildfire mitigation crews through a standing partnership between DNR and the Colorado Youth Corps Association.
- The creation of a fund to support targeted project funding for grants and/or contracts to support fuel reduction and wildfire mitigation projects that would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in priority areas.
- Creation of a hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
- Substantial investments in two of the Colorado State Forest Service’s most important programs, and increases the flexibility and impacts of the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation grant program.
Support Forest Industry Capacity:
- One time investment of funds into the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Business Loan Program provides lending capital to businesses to help retain forest-based businesses, maintain or increase local jobs, and enhance the stability of local economies.
This legislation builds on a number of other initiatives which have moved through the Colorado legislature related to the state’s wildfire mitigation and watershed protection efforts. An early bill allocated $6.0 million of one-time funding to the Forest Restoration Wildfire Risk Mitigation program within the Colorado State Forest Service for grants this fiscal year. Legislation also increased the annual appropriation to the Forest Restoration Wildfire Risk Mitigation (FRWRM) grants to $8.0 million and provided an additional appropriation of $2.0 million to the Healthy Forests Vibrant Communities (HFVC) Fund. Additionally, the legislature is also working to make significant investments in Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Watershed Restoration Grant Program.