Governor Polis Announces Wildfire Mitigation and Forest Health Management Grants for Colorado Communities

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DENVER - Governor Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs were joined by state leaders, legislators, youth corps members, and water providers to announce an additional investment of $6.5 million in grants from Colorado's Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) for on-the-ground forest mitigation work and landscape scale watershed projects throughout Colorado.

Over the last four years, the Polis administration has committed around $145 million in state funds and leveraged millions more in federal funds for forest health and wildfire mitigation work to protect Colorado's communities, critical infrastructure, and watersheds from future wildfires. Since COSWAP's inception in 2022, more than $22.5 million has been invested statewide.

"Colorado is becoming a national leader in wildfire mitigation and we need to do more to provide our communities with the tools and resources  to prevent and control fires. This work keeps Coloradans safe, protects our air quality, and supports our thriving communities and Colorado's iconic outdoors," said Governor Polis.

COSWAP was launched by the Polis administration through the bipartisan SB21-258, which invested in targeted wildfire risk mitigation, and prioritized and funded key mitigation projects. COSWAP's initial success led it to become a permanent program and it continues to support fuel reduction projects, critical forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work that will increase community resilience and protect life, property and infrastructure.

"The successes of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) speak for themselves; in the last year, we have seen COSWAP funded permanently and today we announce its second round of grants and we have worked hard to get funds to communities in need for forest health and wildfire risk reduction projects. We are grateful for the federal investment through the American Rescue Plan Act that is funding two watershed focused projects this round. We are also proud of our partnership with youth corps and the Department of Corrections. We are ensuring that men and women interested in forest health and wildfire mitigation have a chance to gain invaluable experience in a learning environment." said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

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COSWAP has funded 83 wildfire mitigation projects focusing on workforce development and landscape resilience since 2022. Partnerships with the Colorado Youth Corps Association and other state agencies are essential to get projects on the ground at the pace and scale needed to address Colorado's wildfire risk.

Director Gibbs shared the latest investments from the second round of the workforce development grant. COSWAP's Workforce Development Grant in investing over $4.5 million to support on the ground wildfire mitigation work by conservation corps or Department of Corrections (DOC) State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT), and wildfire mitigation workforce training.

COSWAP has allocated 2023 funding through:

Workforce Development Grant: $4.5M
  1. 27 Projects, 8 Counties, 3,664 Acres
    1. 13 projects with the Colorado Youth Corps Association

    2. 2 projects with Teens, Inc, a conservation corps located in Boulder County

    3. 3 projects with the Department of Corrections SWIFT crews

    4. 9 wildfire mitigation workforce training grants supporting over 750 people in receiving S130/S190, S212 or other advanced wildfire mitigation related trainings, including statewide offerings

    5.    

"Thanks to support from COSWAP, Mile High Youth Corps has significantly expanded the number of 18–24-year-olds we serve by 15%," said Kia Abdool, the Chief Executive Officer for the Mile High Youth Corps. "These young adults are gaining skills, certifications and hands-on experience in forestry and natural resource management that translates into 25 more forestry technicians, wildland firefighters and park rangers across the Colorado Front Range every year."

"The COSWAP and SWIFT partnership not only enhances fire and mitigation services across Colorado but also provides invaluable experiences for SWIFT crew members. Within SWIFT, crew members gain valuable skills, contribute to conservation efforts, and find purpose in their work,"
said Mitch Karstens, Deputy Director of Finance and Administration for the Department of Corrections. "This partnership underscores the importance of collaboration in achieving shared goals and fostering positive change within our communities. We are thrilled about the grants and eagerly anticipate further collaboration."

In addition to making forest mitigation a priority, COSWAP also has invested significantly in watershed protection - a key component of forest restoration. The program received $2 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for landscape resilience projects, focusing on larger investments in cross-boundary wildfire mitigation projects with a shared stewardship approach. COSWAP staff worked with the Colorado Water Conservation Board's Wildfire Ready Watersheds program to identify key areas in the state to leverage each other's programs. Almost $2 million has been awarded to 2 landscape projects that are currently completing a Wildfire Ready Watershed's Action Plan.

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COSWAP has allocated 2023 funding through:

Landscape Resilience Investment:  Two projects from governmental entities working on a Wildfire Ready Watersheds Action Plan have been selected for funding. Both projects are awarded $980,000 and will be matched by $720,000 in local, federal, or other state funding.
  1. Jefferson Conservation District: Upper South Platte Landscape Resilience 2, $980,000

  2. Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District: Bear River Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, $980,000


"The strategic investments through DNR's COSWAP projects are protecting critical water supply watersheds from the costly impacts of catastrophic wildfires," said Christina Burri, Watershed Scientist with Denver Water. "Thanks to Governor Polis, the Colorado legislature, and DNR for the COSWAP investments that help protect Denver Water's supplies now and for our future generations."

"With very limited storage, the Yampa Basin relies heavily on the hydrologic production of the natural environment for most of our water supplies so protecting the source is a top priority for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District," said Andy Rossi, General Manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. "We are excited to expand the watershed management activities of our organization to include the Wildfire Ready Watershed program and safeguard the water supplies we depend on."

Federal ARPA investments continue to be made across Colorado through the Colorado Water Conservation Board's Wildfire Ready Watersheds program. The USFS 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy is also bringing in millions of dollars in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to Colorado's National Forests.

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