DougCo wildfire mitigation projects protected hundreds of homes

Mike McKibbin

By Mike McKibbin / NewsBreak Denver / Aug. 9, 2023

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] — A wildfire prevention project grant program begun by Douglas County last year helped around 75 private landowners lower fire risks on more than 790 acres of land and over 200 homes.

The county commissioners directed $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to go toward wildfire mitigation work on private land and serve as local match money for the Colorado State Forest Service's Forest Restoration Wildfire Risk Mitigation grant project recipients awarded by the state. Senior Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Jill Welle said each project had a $100,000 cap.

Last year, county officials said two-thirds of the county's 544,000 acres had significant wildfire risk, including 377,000 acres of privately-owned land. They also estimated 84% of the county's population — more than 282,000 people — lived in the wildland-urban interface, where development meets forest land.

Commissioners designate more money

On Monday, the program's success prompted the commissioners to approve $400,000 to continue and hopefully grow the program. Welle said the county will use that money to seek more grant money to help landowners pay for more projects. She added the county money could hopefully result in an $800,000 program if enough grants are obtained.

"Many landowners couldn't afford to do these projects without the program," she added. "We have lots of people already in line for help. It's really an exciting time for us."

Welle also noted the program did not allow landowner in-kind matches because measuring the value of those services was difficult.

Commissioner Abe Laydon said the county could reconsider that part of the program.

"There are so many property owners who are land wealthy, but they don't have the resources to meet that match," he stated. "I'd hate to see some residents not do their mitigation project because they couldn't get enough (monetary) support."

More participation sought

A memo to the commissioners noted $1 million in ARPA money was dedicated to helping private landowners with their mitigation projects at a 75/25 cost-share ratio. The remaining $1 million was committed to the grant program — which offers a 50/50 match for successful applicants — as half of the county's 50% share.

The memo also noted the goal is to increase participation in the cost-share program and continue to reduce risks across the county.

The state forest service grant program will accept applications through October and make awards early next year. The county program has temporarily paused taking new applications while staff applies for grants.

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