Originally Published By Linda Rockwell In The Canyon Courier “Not if, but when.” I’ve read this many times about wildfire in Evergreen. In 2020, the three worst fires in Colorado history consumed close to 700,00 acres and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. We had our own serious scare in the Elephant Butte fire. That’s the bad news. The good news is that elected officials at every level and numerous private citizens are taking big, bold action to prevent future conflagrations. Earlier this month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the regional chief of the U.S. Forest Service visited Colorado to see for themselves what is needed to repair the damage done by the 2020 fires and learn what their agencies can do going forward. Sen. Michael Bennet had just introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which would appropriate $60 billion over the next 10 years to improve the health of our forests and stabilize watersheds. Said Secretary Vilsack: “… You can spend $1,400 an acre now or you can spend $50,000 an acre in the future to put out fires and then have to deal with the consequences.” Our congressman, Joe Neguse, co-chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, has proposed a 21st Century Civilian Climate Corps, which will fund the labor to improve wildfire preparedness, mitigation and response across the country. The $10 billion price tag is included in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. At the state level, Gov. Polis has signed several bills supported by Sen. Tammy Story and Rep. Lisa Cutter. One of them transferred $6 million to the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation grant program. This money is available to HOAs, local governments, fire districts and others seeking to reduce wildfire risk on non-federal land. Rep. Cutter is chair of the Wildfire Matters Interim Committee, which is charged with reviewing and proposing legislation related to wildfire prevention and mitigation, as well as public safety and forest health. Closer to home, the Jeffco Wildfire Risk Reduction Task Force was convened in the fall of 2019 by Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper. It consists of members from many county and state agencies, area fire chiefs, and several community leaders. Their November 2020 report made several recommendations in the three areas it prioritized: mitigation, community education and revenue streams. Commissioner Dahlkemper is also a member of the Colorado Fire Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2019 to bring together multiple stakeholders. It focuses on collaboration, preparedness, risk reduction and response. In the past two years, Evergreen Fire/Rescue has updated its Community Wildfire Protection Plan, written a five-year strategic plan, created Community Connect, and mapped evacuation routes with plans to make them safer. Kudos to Chief Weege, his staff and the elected board. There’s a lot to learn at evergreenfirerescue.com. This is just a brief summary of the remarkable things happening in the public sector. The private sector is equally engaged. Neighborhood volunteers, insurance agents, Realtors and service clubs have all stepped up to the plate. Three area Rotary clubs joined forces to sponsor a Wildfire Ready event on May 1. Their website rotarywildfireready.com is an excellent source of ideas for things you can do to make your property and your family safer. I commend the Canyon Courier for publishing several pieces recently, most notably the “Wildfire Reality Check” written by Daniel Hatlestad, battalion chief for Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District, on how to ensure the safety of your family, reduce damage, and make recovery easier. He has written a series of columns that will be in the Courier over the coming weeks. In a column I wrote just over two years ago, the main points were that individual landowners have the ultimate responsibility for protecting their lives and homes, and that reducing wildfire risk requires a lot of money. Our elected officials have taken the bull by the horns and dramatically increased planning and funding. Each of us must do our part by continuing to educate ourselves and take action. Only if all of us pull together can we hope to keep the things we love about this community from going up in smoke. Linda Rockwell moved to Evergreen with her family in 1982. She got involved in local land-use issues in 1984 and in the Democratic Party a few years later. She served as chair of the Jeffco Democrats from 1993 to 1997. Good government and principled politics remain her passion.
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