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Community Agriculture Alliance: Wildfire connected with forest health, water issues

Carolina Manriquez
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The 2021 wildfire season is soon to become another record breaker for the U.S. and the northern hemisphere as a whole. California and Europe are experiencing once again historical fires, in size and intensity, impacting communities, economies and ecosystems.

At home, Routt County has two active fires, the Morgan Creek at 7,500 acres (26% contained) and the Muddy Slide at over 4,000 acres (70% contained). We have been lucky that these fires have caused little damage up until now; however, fires can affect communities far from where they are happening.

We have been witness to that, with very poor air quality in the past weeks due to fires west of us and with the closing of major highways throughout the state due to mudslides and flash floods in areas that burned last year. This is our new reality: Climate change will continue to make our fires burn bigger and hotter every year, and we need to act accordingly.



So what has your Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council been doing to try to mitigate for the next fire here at home? Following the successful Wildfire Mitigation Conference we held earlier this year, we continue to engage with local and regional experts to respond to the growing mitigation needs in our community.

The council has been coordinating with fire districts and local agencies to get individual homeowners and homeowners associations’ advice and funding options they need to reduce their fire risk and be better prepared in the face of a wildfire.

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For example, local fire districts and the Colorado State Forest Service have conducted dozens of field visits to local HOAs looking for guidance on their mitigation strategies. The Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program has recently funded two local fuel reduction projects in the Steamboat wildland urban interface with the support of the council.

These projects will protect key watersheds and water infrastructure, one with Mount Werner Water District and another with the Catamount Water district. The council continues to engage and advocate to prioritize rural watershed protection and forest management needs to reduce wildfire risk in our valley.

CSU Extension, and members of council, have been working on the development of an “After the Disaster” document that will become another important resource for landowners in our area.

In addition to supporting our local assets, council also works with other stakeholders in the area to advocate for the rural west and the need for forest management at broader scales on our watersheds.

The connection between forest health, water and wildfire issues is undeniable and is reflected by our community’s ongoing participation in an array of events, such as the upcoming drought tour, the water conference in September and the Yampa Basin Rendezvous.

There is an understanding that what happens to our high elevation forests impacts millions downstream from us. The work of the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council is focused on supporting local, on-the-ground, mitigation projects while also advocating at a regional level to connect forest health and wildfire mitigation to protect our watersheds.

Carolina Manriquez is secretary of the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council.


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