Colorado is expected to add 1.5 million new residents by 2030, and Chaffee County outstripped the statewide pace of growth as its population increased by 5.6% from 2015-2017. As expanding populations drive increased development in the wildland-urban interface, and recreation in the backcountry, forests become harder to ignore. The risks of catastrophic wildfire are apparent, and insect and disease outbreaks have the potential to damage tourism and recreation industries. Forests in Chaffee County host property, support recreation and tourism, and supply critical water for nearby towns, fishing, rafting, and agriculture.
In 2017, the Envision Chaffee County planning initiative began to address these challenges, and incorporated 1,500 citizens and 70 organizations in a collaborative process to define a vision for future forests and communities. In 2018, voters in Chaffee County approved a ballot measure that would approve funds to support the Community Action Plan, including the Next Generation Wildfire Protection Plan, which was adopted unanimously by county commissioners in February, 2020.
The wildfire protection plan engages the community, and uses the most current science and modeling technology to create Colorado’s leading forest health action plan. The plan explains the risk posed by severe wildfire, and prioritizes management to decrease risk.
Using information gathered directly from the community about priority areas for protection and general support for forest treatment, CFRI quantified and mapped risk to values that the community itself identified. CFRI also provided a county-wide assessment of important assets (power lines/cell towers, evacuation routes, water supply, critical wildlife habitat, etc.), areas where burn probability is highest, and modeled fire behavior in various forest types depending on weather and topographical conditions.
These two papers from Ben Gannon outline the methods used for the Chaffee County Wildfire Risk Assessment and Fuel Treatment Prioritization: