wildfire mitigation

Western Slope private landowners will now have a chance to get assistance when it comes to managing natural resources and wildfire mitigation.

The Colorado West Land Trust received over $111,000 in grant funds from Great Outdoors Colorado on June 14. The money will go toward developing a stewardship program to help private landowners in natural resource management and wildfire mitigation.

This program would go to those owners living in Montrose, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison, San Miguel and Mesa counties.

CWLT Project Manager Libby Collins said wildfire mitigation is often heavily focused on public lands, and private property owners sometimes lack the technical expertise or financial resources to protect their acreage from fire.

“Landowners don’t have those resources to do that,” she said.

To address this problem, the CWLT, in partnership with the West Region Wildfire Council (WRWC), has created a program to educate and assist private landowners with resources to protect their properties.

With the Western Slope experiencing a hotter, drier climate than in years past, the risk of wildfire has been more pronounced. Last year, Montrose County experienced the 36,520-acre Bull Draw Fire, which started due to a lightning strike in late July, 12 miles northwest of Nucla. It was finally contained in mid-October.

The CWLT program hopes to prevent such wildfires with the first step of identifying specific private, conserved properties in high wildfire risk areas, Collins said. It also gives property owners the opportunity to connect with natural resources managers from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife or Bureau of Land Management.

Landowners will learn about forest treatment options as well as technical and financial resources to improve forest health and fire resilience, said Collins.

She added this aspect is quite beneficial as it’s normally costly for treatment. Although the cost on such property can depend, she said she’s seen land treatment cost as much as around $700,000-$900,000 per acre.

“We want to bring resources to landowners to help them manage wildlife habitat,” said Collins.

The program includes two demonstration projects.

Approximately 120 acres of an Ouray County property near Ridgway will be treated this year, with the second project planned for 2020, Collins said. Its location will be determined as part of the initial analysis and planning efforts.

This project wouldn’t have been done if not for the GOCO grant.

The funds are part of the inaugural round of the organization’s stewardship impact grants, which aims to increase supervising outcomes statewide through funding for collective projects, said Lauren Lecy with GOCO. This program is the culmination of a multi-year endeavor by GOCO and the Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition to build a framework for promoting volunteer-based stewardship in Colorado communities.

“The most important benefit of this GOCO grant is that it’s bringing a collaborative effort and partnership,” Collins said. “It’s breaking down the silos that often prevent a lot of these organizations and groups from working together.”

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.

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