By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | June 13, 2022
[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] Private property owners in unincorporated Douglas County could get help — including money — to mitigate their wildfire risk under a proposal presented Monday to the county commissioners.
Steve Dwyer, a deputy building official, said two-thirds of the county's 544,000 acres have significant wildfire risk, including 377,000 acres of privately-owned land. He added that 84% of the county's population is estimated to be in the wildland-urban interface, where development meets forest land.
"We're talking about over 282,000 people," Dwyer said.
He noted the county's wildfire mitigation program had done an excellent job of addressing the situation with new development. But the county's wildfire initiative team wanted to focus more on developed land. Currently, the county can only perform mitigation work on land it owns.
Dwyer added wildfires threaten more than $58 billion in potential losses, including values such as recreation, buildings, and other tangible property.
Federal money would help pay for projects
For the past 12 years, the building division has administered the county wildfire mitigation program with only one staff member. Dwyer proposed the county hire two limited benefit temporary staff members with an initial budget of $2 million from the county's share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money.
"These resources will enable us to improve our public outreach and education efforts and assist private landowners with funding to accomplish their mitigation goals," Dwyer wrote in an accompanying memo to the commissioners.
Senior wildfire mitigation specialist Jill Welle said for the plan to help reduce wildfire risk, "there absolutely has to be a willingness" by landowners to participate.
Dwyer said the money could be used in a 75% county, 25% private landowner cost-sharing arrangement but agreed a 50/50 split could also help. After reaching an agreement to mitigate a property, the county would seek a contractor to conduct the work.
Dwyer stated that the initial goal of such projects would likely be to create defensible space of 70-100 feet around structures with fuel breaks potentially added.
"I wouldn't focus on the larger landowners at first, I think we'd get 5-10 small owners of lots of less than one acre together to make a bigger impact on threat reduction," he added.
Request supported by commissioners
All three commissioners voiced support for the plan. It will be considered for funding next week when they take up various requests for ARPA money.
"I'm OK with this," said Commissioner George Teal. "It helps protect natural resources and private property, plus public safety. It seems like a smart way to do it."
"I like the idea of incentivizing landowners," said Commissioner Abe Laydon. "Some of them just don't have the money, they only have the land."