Jefferson  County Case Study
Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary


WGA Goal - Reduce Hazardous Fuels

Actions to meet goal

  • Reduce acres at risk
  • Ensure communities most at risk receive priority
  • Expand and improve integration of hazardous fuels management program
  • Incorporate public health and environmental quality considerations in fire management activities
  • Develop smoke management plans in conjunction with prescribed fire planning
  • Address fire-prone ecosystem problems
  • Maintain areas improved by fuels treatment
  • Conduct and utilize research to support the reduction of hazardous fuels in WUI communities
  • Factor in local environmental conditions during fuels treatment planning

Reduce acres at risk

Defensible space programs

Creating defensible space in Jefferson County is primarily the responsibility of the homeowner. Education efforts focus on encouraging homeowners to take action. While both Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Colorado State Forestry both have cost-share programs, resources are limited. To encourage the reduction of hazardous fuels, the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) does some of its own defensible space work. These programs are funded through Colorado State Forestry and are coordinated by the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, Rocco Snart. OEM received $50,000 from Colorado State Forestry in 2002 for defensible space programs. With this money Snart assessed 100 homes and 31 homeowners completed projects for reimbursement. OEM received $75,000 in defensible space money from CSFS in 2003. This money will support the treatment of 75-100 homes. .

CSFS pictureThe Colorado State Forest Service's Golden District also coordinates a defensible space program. Two programs are available---one available to counties, communities or neighborhood associations and another available to individual homeowners. Golden District has 8-13 employees in the office depending on the season. Golden District is unique because it has a larger number of employees and it is also self-funds a number of these positions-meaning CSFS generates income to support its own positions. In practice, this means that CSFS charges individual homeowners for defensible space assessments and other services. CSFS charges $75 for the first hour of work and $26 per hour for any additional hours. A typical defensible space marking takes two hours and costs $101. Half of this fee can be reimbursed through the cost-share program. In 2001 CSFS assessed a total of 341 defensible spaces. In 2002 CSFS did 143 assessments and 60 in 2003. In 2002 they created 21 defensible spaces through their cost share program and 29 in 2003. CSFS has had trouble finding homeowners to take advantage of its cost share program. $4,500 of FY03 money remains in CSFS coffers unspent due to limited demand from homeowners.

Fuels Reduction Programs

To encourage the reduction of hazardous fuels, the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) does some of its own shaded fuel breaks and other fuel management projects on a cost-share basis, as well as engages in planning activities. In 2003, OEM received $50,000 from Colorado State Forestry's Western State Competitive Grant funds to create shaded fuel breaks.

In Jefferson County, CSFS has three major mitigation programs. First, CSFS applies for and receives grant money to implement projects with landowners who will make a cash or in-kind match. For instance, CSFS works in partnership with the Division of Wildlife, Denver Mountain Parks, Colorado State Parks, Jefferson County Open Space and the Denver Water Board in various capacities to do fuel treatment. Second, CSFS funds other organizations, like Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management, to do work. For instance, CSFS provides money to Jefferson County to do fuel breaks, defensible space and their slash collection program. In Jefferson County CSFS mechanically treated 350 acres in 2001, 90 in 2002 and 17 in 2003. They prescribed burned 392 acres in 2002 and 195 in 2003.

Jefferson County Open Space has a separate fuels reduction program on the 50,000 acres of land they manage. They do both mechanical fuel reduction and prescribed burning. They broadcast burn about 150-200 acres per year, burn about 300-400 slash piles per year, and thin approximately 100-150 acres per year. In ponderosa pine they use a prescription that mimics mature to old-growth forest. Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) helped them write and implement prescribe fire plans and they have a contract agreement with CSFS to develop and implement the broadcast burn program. They use CSFS's Creating Defensible Space Guidelines for their fuel breaks. Open Space generally does not prioritize their treatment areas. They tend to complete work in one park before opening it totally to the public and then move onto another park. CSFS also works with them on cross-boundary activities that involve private lands or other agency lands.

PNF PictureThere are 282,226 acres within Pike National Forest that need hazard fuels treatment. The USDA Forest Service currently has in operation three projects within Jefferson County for hazard fuels reduction. They are the 1,066 acre Spring Creek mastication project, the 455 acre Dell mastication project, and 326 acre Kelsey mastication project. During 2002 in the South Platte Ranger District, was able to treat 915 acres within Douglas County.

In September-October 2001 the USFS completed the 8,000-acre Polhemus Prescribed Burn. This prescribed burn is credited with slowing down the north east finger of the Hayman Fire. Prescribed fire has been easier since the Polhemus Burn. The USDA Forest Service is working with the State Air Pollution Control Division to assist with smoke management.

Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership

USFS Regional Forester Rick Cables and State Forester Jim Hubbard identified the need for a concentrated effort to address the wildland-urban interface problems along the Front Range of Colorado. This 10-year $225 million effort began in 2003. The USFS now has discretionary money for the Pike and Arapahoe National Forests to do fuels mitigation work on USFS lands in close proximity to communities identified as high risk. Colorado State Forest Service is completing a hazard fuels analysis on the private lands adjacent to the National Forest. The results of this analysis will be used to comment on the Forest Service proposed action. USFS officials estimate they need $26.1 million for FY 2003 and $30.6 million in FY2004 for the Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership. They have secured $16.2 million for FY 2003 and $18.7 million in FY 2004. The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region shifted $5 million to the Pike, Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests also to address this priority.

CSFS will provide funds for fuel mitigation work on private and state lands through the Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership. They will prioritize treatment by homeowners associations that have the greatest interest and demonstrate the greatest activity. CSFS received an increase of $3 million in Federal State and Private Forestry funding for the Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership in FY2003. The strategy for implementing the Front Range Fuels Partnership involves “focusing state time and expertise on building partnerships that facilitate landscape-scale, cross-boundary fuels treatment and that provide significant protection to both people and natural resources” according to State Forester Jim Hubbard. Partners in the project include USFS, BLM, NPS, and CSFS. Issues that the partners need to address include smoke management, long term stewardship contracting, biomass utilization and funding.


The Challenge of Prescribed Fire and Controlled Burns in the WUI

Burning in Jefferson County is fraught with difficulty due to regional airshed issues and proximity to the Denver metropolitan area. Visibility impacts and particulate emissions are the limiting factor in the airshed, which is already close to or out of compliance with federal air quality regulations. Colorado State Forest Service and the US Forest Service are limited in the amount of burning due to particulate constraints imposed by EPA in the regional airshed. The air control division of the Colorado Department of Health issues the permits that allow burning.


Expand and Improve Integration of Hazardous Fuels Management Program

Jefferson County Slash Disposal Program

To encourage homeowners to treat their property, Jefferson County needed a low cost alternative for disposing of slash. The slash program started in 1995 and Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinates and runs the program. There are two aspects to the program-a central disposal site and remote locations at fire districts throughout Jefferson County. The program is straightforward according to the OEM director, Judy Peratt, "People … load up their trucks and unload it and then we … pay a contractor to come in and grind it and then make it into chips and mulch."Utilization of the biomass continues to be a challenge for the county. The county commissioners currently are discussing how they might set up a portable biomass facility to better utilize the small diameter material.

Since 1995, the total costs of the slash program have increased as has the amount of material treated. In 1995, the central site operated for nine days at a cost of $10,029 and treated 4,000 cubic yards of material. In 2002, the central site operated for 48 days and processed 20,000 cubic yards of material. In 2002, Jefferson County privatized the arrangement at the central location, under encouragement from the Forest Service. In 1995 the remote sites operated for 16 days, processed 9,005 cubic yards of material and cost $28,804. In 2002, the remote site operated for 24 days, processed 46,715 cubic yards and cost $113,372. Grants from the USFS and Colorado State Forestry and fee collection offset the costs of the program in 2001 and 2002. Fees charged are $5-12 at the remote sites as opposed to $30-35 per pick up truck load charged at the landfill. Fees at the central site range from $5.00-10.00 depending on the amount of slash in a small or large pick up truck.

Genesee Case Study

XGenesee picture

Genesee is part of unincorporated Jefferson County. The development has its own fire department, water/sewer district, open space and pays for this through annual assessments. The Genesee Foundation is the governing body for the community and coordinates wildfire mitigation through its Stewardship Committee. A portion of residents' annual assessment goes toward mitigation activity, about $50,000 each year. Genesee totals about 2,200 acres of land and 1,200 acres of it is unbuildable open space. There are approximately 900 homes in the area.

Genesee's successes are their extensive GIS mapping and wildfire hazard analysis, shaded fuel break, emergency evacuation route, and mitigation planning. For these efforts, they have been recognized nationally as a FIREWISE community. The treatment work accomplished has been on the open space lands at approximately 10-15 acres treated per year. Not much is happening on private property and approximately only 5-10% of the homes have defensible space. Genesee Foundation received $7,930 through the CSFS in FY 2002 for the construction of a 100-foot fuel break. Genesee Foundation received $8,280 in FY2002 from CSFS to create a demonstration site on community property. In 2002 the Genesee Foundation did a restoration demonstration site with their own funding on 10 acres. In FY 2003 Genesee Foundation applied for $15,000 for slash treatment and $5,000 for thinning, which was completed on five acres. There is no reliable way to track how many members of the Genesee community are actively working on creating defensible space. But if a homeowner removes a tree, the homeowner has to get approval from the Architectural Review Committee. Applications for tree removal were 20 in 1999, 34 in 2000, 19 in 2001, 70 in 2002 and 32 in 2003. New home construction or new additions require defensible space certification and 54 homes were certified as defensible at the time of their construction.

One of the goals of the community is to manage not only for the wildfire threat but ecological health. Genesee homeowners have been somewhat frustrated with CSFS's defensible space process since State Forestry tends to be inflexible in how they apply their prescription. According to one Genesee resident, "There is no negotiation room". Another resident commented that this leads them to work with people outside State Forestry, "One of the reasons we are working with private contractors a little bit more is because of their ability to look at more environmental issues instead of strictly fire". Genesee Foundation is moving ahead with a new push to encourage homeowners to mitigate against wildfire risk. They plan to target specific areas and push the forest health message. Part of this strategy will include providing money for homeowners to do the work. Genesee Foundation anticipates it will need $250,000 for cost-share work in this next phase. In addition to providing stronger financial incentives and education for homeowners to thin and create defensible space, they are trying to make slash removal easier.

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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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