Summary by Katie McGrath Novak, Colorado Forest Health Council Member serving as “an individual employed by or associated with a forest collaborative organization”
This document summarizes points from the meeting that I believe are most relevant to Colorado’s place-based forest collaboratives. It is an interpretation of discussions from the meeting, but is not an official Forest Health Council document.
Thanks to Holly Gordon, Colorado Forest Collaboratives Network intern, for taking detailed notes during the meeting in support of this summary.
- Meeting agenda, recording, minutes, and slides will be available on the Forest Health Council webpage within a few weeks.
- Prefer a video? 30-minute Branching Out presentation summarizing this meeting
- In case you missed it: February 2023 Quarterly Meeting Summary
Seeking County Commissioner to Serve on the Colorado Forest Health Council
The Colorado Forest Health Council is seeking a new member to serve as “a county commissioner west of the continental divide.” Open until filled, so apply soon!
Application link: https://www.colorado.gov/governor/boards-commissions-application
- Pre-meeting tour summary
- Main meeting summary
- Post-meeting presentation at Horse & Dragon Brewery
- Recommendations from collaboratives to the Forest Health Council (coming soon!)
Before the main meeting, Council members were invited to take a tour of the Big Thompson watershed. The goal of the tour was to enhance Forest Health Council members’ understanding of the situation on the ground, discuss successes and challenges faced by partners, and highlight the strategic value of the Big Thompson Watershed Health Partnership.
Our stops included a local fire station, Loveland Fire Rescue Authority Station #7, and a privately owned ranch in Estes Park, MacGregor Ranch. The tour was jam-packed with more than a dozen speakers.
- Workforce challenges
- Funding successes
- Community engagement & community perspectives on forest management
- Biomass and slash management
- Fire districts’ role in mitigation work
- Cameron Peak Fire impacts on the watershed and local communities
At MacGregor Ranch, we had a chance to see an active thinning operation and learn about the multi-phase forest restoration project happening on the ranch, with multiple projects being completed over the span of several years. Click here to hear Todd Jirsa, a MacGregor Ranch Trustee, talk about his experience working with the Larimer Conservation District.
The Big Thompson partners shared several challenges & recommendations. Here are a few highlights:
- Recommendation | extend the Wildfire Ready Watersheds program beyond its current 2024 end date
- Recommendation | remove barriers to prescribed fire by amending the Colorado Certified Burner Program, including broadcast burning training for landowners, clarifying liability for Certified Burners, defining standard of negligence, and/or adopting a prescribed fire claims fund similar to what California has
- Challenge | biomass issues (unburned piles & workforce issues)
- Challenge | in places like Estes Park, there are many residents with small acreages; these typically are tougher to get work done on
- Challenge | coordinating public messaging when communities all have their own personalities & preferences
We also got a first look at the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition’s new air curtain burner, a piece of equipment that incinerates biomass.
This summary offered just a glimpse into the wealth of knowledge shared in just a few hours by many speakers. Thanks to all who played a role in making this informative tour happen!
Main Meeting Summary:
Review of Council Priorities
Speaker: Courtney Young, Wildfire Mitigation Program Facilitator, DNR
Courtney Young lead a check-in on the 2023 priorities the Council agreed upon in a late 2022 survey. Here were the top six priorities:
- Landscape-scale State Priorities
- Note: This is a statutory duty of the Council. ‘Landscape-scale planning to identify state-level priorities for forest restoration, wildfire risk reduction, and related management; key barriers inhibiting the achievement of those priorities; and solutions to overcome those barriers (specifically, education on current mapping tools and opportunities for use/improvement)’
- Forest management techniques to support water resources.
- Maximizing success of IIJA/IRA implementation and coordination
- Forest health & climate
- Note: This is a statutory duty of the Council. ‘Monitoring trends related to forest ecosystem health, including those related to climate adaptation, and advising on opportunities for state-level action (specifically, post-fire restoration, forest regeneration and replanting)’
- Develop proposals for clearer public communication channels to highlight progress and opportunities for participation.
- Woody biomass
- Note: This is a statutory duty of the Council. ‘Development and support of solutions to manage and utilize woody material produced by mitigation work, including consideration of climate change and ecological impacts’.
What to expect from the Forest Health Council the rest of the year: A Timeline
May, June, & July: Forest Health Council’s Legislative and Leveraging Resources Committees to develop recommendations for the legislature, agency leadership, & the annual report.
July 27th: Vote on recommendations at the next Forest Health Council quarterly meeting.
The Legislative and Leveraging Resources Committees will bring their recommendations to the full Council, and the Council will vote to approve these recommendations. Approved recommendations will go in the Forest Health Council’s annual report and in briefs to the Governor and the Wildfire Matters Review Committee.
Early August: Council to brief Wildfire Matters Review Committee
The Wildfire Matters Review Committee is an interim committee of the Colorado General Assembly, and its purpose is “to oversee and review prevention, mitigation, public safety, and forest health in regards to wildfire matters in Colorado.” According to Senate Bill 21-237, which established the Forest Health Council, the Council “shall annually brief the Wildfire Matters Review Committee.” This will happen at the August Committee meeting.
Mid-August: Complete Forest Health Council 2023 Annual Report
We’ll share the annual report with the Forest Collaboratives Network when it is available. In the meantime, you can view last year’s (2022) annual report here.
Speaker: Larimer County Commissioner Jody Shadduck-McNally
The Colorado Forest Health Council, including Councilmember State Senator Lisa Cutter, endorsed Senate Bill 23-005: Forestry and Wildfire Mitigation Workforce and House Bill 23-1060: Updates to State Forest Service Tree Nursery. These bills have both been passed [MN1] [KM2] with minimal changes and with full requested funding!
Commissioner Shadduck-McNally shared the following items as being on the list of considerations for the legislative committee moving forward.
- Industry scale biomass
- Vapor pressure deficit changes & impact on wildfire
- Post-fire regeneration failuresPrescribed fire barriers & opportunities, including liability insurance challenges
- Wildfire Ready Watersheds | in the morning tour, folks from the Big Thompson Watershed Health Partnership specifically recommended extending this program, which is set to end in December 2024 but has the potential to continue benefitting place-based collaboratives beyond that date.
Leveraging Resources Committee
Speakers: Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Colorado River Districts
Christina Burri, Watershed Scientist, Denver Water
The Leveraging Resources Committee shared the concept for a “Forest Resilience Planning Guide” intended to compliment the Post-Fire Playbook.
Context: Historically, money goes where money already is; groups that have it ‘figured out’ already continue to get new funding, while communities without collaborative processes in place get overwhelmed with where to begin. The Forest Resilience Planning Guide would bolster community-based pre-fire planning and implementation processes and outline opportunities to leverage existing programs and resources. Its content is largely guided by the Stages of Readiness Framework and adaptive management frameworks, and suggests a process based on how other communities in Colorado have found success in similar efforts. Committee members sought initial support for the project; moving forward, the goal is for the Council, with its diverse range of expertise, to create a detailed outline for the guide, then pass it on to the DNR and/or CSFS to complete.
NOTE: The Colorado Forest Collaboratives Network will be seeking feedback on this Guide as it develops.
Draft purpose, goal, and audience for the Guide:
Purpose: To assist with positioning all areas and communities in Colorado to better leverage resources, knowledge share, and be competitive at receiving funding to achieve effective forest health management and resiliency. This guide will serve as resource for collaborative readiness and actions for stakeholders to take prior to a fire to be more prepared to live with fire.
Goal: The Pre-Fire Playbook provides a starting point on how to access science-based modeling, existing resources and technical capacity, and statewide priorities to improve existing processes in pre-fire planning and forest health efforts.
Audience: Targeted at the local government and community-level, while being broadly applicable to a range of stakeholders from the individual to multiple adjacent counties interested in advancing pre-fire planning and building forest health resiliency.
- Councilmember Church expressed support for the Guide and offered to share his community’s experience with pre-fire planning and implementation efforts.
- Director McCombs asked how the Guide will interface with the wealth of other existing resources out there for communities.
- Answer: This resource is not meant to replace any existing resources; rather, it is meant to compile and guide community leaders through existing resources, breaking down which resources might be best utilized at what stage the community is at based on others’ past successes. It can also help agencies identify opportunities for the right communities as they move through the process.
The Committee on Leveraging Resources also noted that they are considering recommending an all-lands activity tracking database similar to Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative. This item is on the backburner as the committee works on the Forest Resilience Planning Guide.
Speaker: Courtney Young, Wildfire Mitigation Program Facilitator, DNR
Courtney Young shared the following policy updates relevant to the Forest Health Council. You can find these updates in this Google Doc.
Note: If you’re interested in more legislative updates like these, Fire Adapted Colorado maintains this Legislation Tracker, which follows many wildfire-related bills as they move through the legislative process.
Agency leadership from the Colorado State Forest Service, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Department of Natural Resources gave updates. Here are some highlights:
Division of Fire Prevention & Control (DFPC)
Speaker: Director Mike Morgan
- Despite the rainy days those of us on the front range have been seeing, southeast Colorado is currently facing very high wildfire risk and has been seeing ”dust bowl” conditions the past few weeks. You can learn more in this recent article from the Colorado Sun.
- Earlier this year, DFPC and the US Forest Service (USFS) partnered to create a fuels module to do thinning and prescribed fire on public and private lands. Here is an article from when the module was first announced.
- Recognizing that there is currently no official statewide direction on prescribed fire, DFPC, USFS, & Colorado State Forest Service are working on statewide priorities, assessment, planning around prescribed fire.
Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS)
Speaker: Director Matt McCombs
- CSFS has lots of new funding coming in, including the more-than $5 million for nursery improvements from House Bill 1060.
- CSFS recently hired a new Associate Director for Policy & Legislative Affairs, working to better connect with the legislature.
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law money is being used to hire 4 new staff across the state to engage limited-resourced communities with Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
- Director McCombs excitedly shared of a new statewide wildfire awareness campaign that CSFS is working on in partnership with DFPC, the USFS, and the Colorado State Fire Chiefs: Live Wildfire Ready
Department of Natural Resources
Speaker: Director Dan Gibbs
- Director Gibbs shared updates from the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP):
- 34 workforce development projects
- 10 landscape resilience projects
- More than $16mil total invested
- Note: if you are interested in learning more about COSWAP, and sharing your feedback to help influence changes being made for 2023, be sure to register for our June 22nd Branching Out peer-learning session. Learn more & register here.
- He also shared about the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s, Wildfire Ready Watersheds program:
- Statewide susceptibility analysis has recently been completed
- Wildfire Ready Action Plan templates available for local communities
- $10mil available to support Action Plan development & projects
Post-Meeting Happy Hour & Presentation
Speakers: Carol Cochran, Co-Owner, Horse and Dragon Brewery
Daniel Bowker, Forest & Fire Program Manager, Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed
After the meeting, we went to Fort Collins’ Horse and Dragon Brewery. Daniel Bowker of Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) shared a bit of the organization’s history: like many collaboratives across Colorado, the organization was born in 2013 after severe wildfire and flooding defined much of 2012. Daniel emphasized CPRW’s work toward putting the ‘right treatments in the right spot’ to maximize their impact on the landscape.
CPRW has been working with Carol Cochran, co-owner of Horse and Dragon Brewery and a local private landowner, to do forest health and wildfire mitigation work on her privately-owned ranch. Carol shared her enthusiasm for getting the work done on her property, and shared an inspiring perspective on using her platform to promote land stewardship. She said that, although all businesses and individuals rely on water in one way or another, breweries have a particularly noticeable linkage to water, since their product is water-based. She uses the brewery as a platform to promote land stewardship.
The next Colorado Forest Health Council quarterly meeting will take place on July 27, 2023.
Getting involved with the Colorado Forest Health Council
All Forest Health Council meetings are open to the public and have a segment for public comment toward the end of the meeting.
Agenda and Zoom link will be posted on the Forest Health Council webpage at least 24 hours ahead of the meeting. The Colorado Forest Collaboratives Network will also distribute meeting information when we receive it.
Want more summaries like this?
Contact: Katie McGrath Novak, Coordinator, Colorado Forest Collaboratives Network; Forest Health Council member serving as “an individual employed by or associated with a forest collaborative organization”