Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council takes year-round approach to fire resiliency
While wildfire mitigation may not be at the top of Routt County residents’ minds as snow begins to fall and the winter sports season kicks off, the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council is still working in full force to help businesses, public lands and residents protect themselves against wildfires.
“Wildfires will continue to come for the foreseeable future — that’s just a matter of looking at our forest conditions through climate change and drought,” said Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service and secretary of the council. “We’re trying to create fire-adaptive communities, and that’s work that goes on year round.”
The council is composed of fire chiefs from around Routt County, as well as representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Forest Service, private business owners and homeowner association presidents.
Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli, who is on the council, said fire chiefs and Forest Service firefighters chose to seek the help of business owners and HOA presidents because wildfires will continue to impact people closer to home.
“What might come to mind is vegetation removal and mitigation work, but it also involves forest health, education, having property owners understand what they can do to help their home and their ranch or whatever they have be a bit more protected if a wildfire did come through our community,” Cerasoli said. “We’re working at this idea of wildfire resiliency through many different areas.”
Though Cerasoli said diverse perspectives have helped the council reach more people, it has struggled at times because all of its members also have full-time jobs and do not have enough time to dedicate solely to wildfire education and mitigation.
To address that problem, the council is seeking an executive director, who will be the council’s only full-time, paid employee. That person will work with board members to outline goals for the council, as well as be the face of the group in the community.
“Some of it is what’s needed to actually get an organization from a working board to a more robust organization that can really provide the information that’s needed to stakeholders and the community,” said Sarah Jones, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. director of sustainability and a member of the council. “Someone who understands wildfire mitigation is really important as well.”
Those interested in applying for the executive director position may do so at RouttWildfire.org.
Jones said the council is working year-round because wildfire season, which traditionally runs from June to October, will continue to extend itself, as the impacts of climate change become more apparent and drought worsens.
“We should have begun working on this probably 10 years ago, so it’s even more critical right now,” Jones said. “We see the risk to our infrastructure, our water quality and the length of our wildfire season going up with climate change.”
Cerasoli said wildfires in western Colordo are inevitable moving forward, which is why the council is focusing on building a resilient community where homes and businesses are not destroyed in a fire.
“No council or one fire district can do all this work, so the public education piece is really big,” Cerasoli said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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