Wildfires burned just west of Boulder on Oct. 16, 2020. Credit: John Herrick

The Boulder County Commission last week approved a $549.8 million budget for 2022 that includes additional spending for county-wide wildfire mitigation. 

The budget includes $264,000 in one-time spending for recovery work at Heil Valley Ranch, a popular recreation destination near Lyons damaged by the October 2020 Calwood fire. 

The budget also includes $106,000 to create a fireshed coordinator position to plan bigger projects and help spend what the county expects will be a bump in federal and state wildfire mitigation money. Earlier this year, state lawmakers increased spending on a wildfire mitigation grant program for local governments from $6 million to $8 million. Lawmakers also approved more spending for water quality projects related to wildfires. 

Commissioner Matt Jones told the Boulder Reporting Lab the county wants to be better prepared to take advantage of that money. 

“There’s going to be more money and we’ve got to put it to good use because we sure have a challenge with overgrown forest,” Jones said. 

The money will likely be used to thin forests with chainsaws and controlled burns. Thinning helps subdue forest fires, which are becoming more intense due to climate change, and counteract more than a century of fire suppression that has caused the build up of fuel for fires. The mitigation work also helps protect homes in the foothills. 

The 2020 fire season was a wake-up call for Boulder County residents. The Calwood fire burned 10,000 acres, the largest in the county’s history, prompting evacuations from residents in the foothills. More than two dozen homes were destroyed. Days later, the East Troublesome, which started near Lake Granby, jumped the Continental Divide and spread into Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Jones, who used to work on a fire crew for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, said the county’s investment is an incremental step toward fighting wildfires before the next fire season. 

“We’re trying to work on the front end and increase the pace and scale of the work because that’s what the fires are doing,” Jones said. “Their scale is getting bigger and more ferocious.”

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.