“In my opinion, this is of critical importance and it isn’t something we can delay.” — Firefighter Kent Maxwell

Colorado Firecamp says “yes” on 1A

By Kent Maxwell, Firefighter

As a long-time volunteer firefighter in Chaffee County and founder of the nonprofit wildland firefighter school Colorado Firecamp, I see a unique opportunity to improve the health of our local forests and reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire.

In my opinion, this is of critical importance and isn’t something we can delay.

County Ballot Issue 1A gives us the support to improve our forests. Combined with recent investments in training and equipment for our local fire departments, this is a measure that can go a long way to protect our forests, streams and habitat, as well as our economy and way of life.

A catastrophic fire not only destroys ecosystems and causes future flooding, it also makes deep scars in local economies. Depending on which study is cited, somewhere between 40 and 80 percent of businesses never reopen after suffering from a disaster like a wildfire.

Our weather patterns in Chaffee County are trending more toward warm and dry, which puts us at risk of seeing a large fire any time of year. We’re not just talking about forests. With downslope, drying winds coming off the Divide, the brush and grasses on our valley floor are usually just a few windy days from being primed to burn.

That means our communities are at risk. If you look at what has happened in California, you’ll see that fires don’t respect city or town limits.

We’ve managed to avoid a large ignition here in Chaffee County, but that’s mostly just a matter of luck. With funds from 1A, we will be able to work more aggressively on our forests to decrease fire risk. More importantly, 1A will support work on an ongoing basis. With so many communities in the West offering cautionary tales about large fires, this can help us get in front of the problem, with persistent effort across ownership boundaries.

As a firefighter, this is one of the best investments I can think of for our future. 1A seeks a 0.25 % sales tax, which can be leveraged for matching grants.

This allows us to plan and prevent rather than respond to a large fire and the significant loss and danger that represents. The aftereffects of a major fire are considerable, and not just to the land. Waterways are also severely impacted by silt and debris, and downstream flooding is common. In the case of Chaffee County, where much of our economy is derived from the Arkansas River and our many streams, a large fire could put many of us out of business.

1A will help us do the work we need to do in our forests. It’s not just a “chainsaw solution,” although selective thinning and creating fire breaks are part of the solution. From a holistic perspective, it’s also a matter of selectively using fire where it has been previously excluded, allowing controlled burns to regenerate trees and grasses and provide optimal habitat.

A preferred outcome from a wildfire is a mosaic pattern of fire effects across the landscape.  A “good” fire results in the full range of varying disturbances, ranging from minimal vegetation impact to undergrowth removal to single tree/group torching to limited areas of complete forest stand replacement.  1A will allow us to create the mosaic before our big fire, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service’s new Shared Stewardship initiative, doing “the right work in the right places at the right scale.”

In addition, the measure helps support our working lands, which continue to be challenged by development. 1A will also help us balance the impacts we are seeing from increased recreation. Our trailheads and trails need assistance, and we can also use help from 1A in education such as Leave No Trace.

I cannot stress enough how important 1A is to our local forests and streams, as well as to our safety, economy and our quality of life. Please join me in passing 1A on Nov. 6th. Vote Yes! to Protecting Forests, Waters and Working Lands!

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