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November 1, 2023

Wildfire Matters Review Committee Advances Bills to Better Prepare Colorado for Wildfires

DENVER, CO - The Wildfire Matters Review Committee today advanced five bills to improve wildfire mitigation, bolster the forestry workforce, and increase wildfire awareness.

Biochar is a type of charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Bill 1, sponsored by Vice Chair Senator Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, Senator Perry Will, R-New Castle, Chair Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, and Rep. Ruby Dickson, D-Centennial, directs Colorado State University (CSU) to study the use of biochar in wildfire mitigation efforts. The study would evaluate beneficial uses for biochar, its impacts on forest health and best practices in creating it, with a report due on its findings by July 1, 2026.

“Coloradans are counting on us to help reduce wildfire-risk in their backyard, and these bills put us on a path forward to improving statewide mitigation efforts and education,” said Chair Velasco, sponsor of Bills 1, 2, 5 and 9. “Colorado rural and mountain communities like mine are some of the most at-risk for wildfire damage and are especially vulnerable to high workforce shortages and a lack of resources needed to prevent and combat wildfires. Today, we passed five bills to support communities in boosting their wildfire mitigation efforts, creating emergency preparedness plans, and increasing awareness surrounding residential mitigation efforts.”

“I represent many communities on the wildland-urban interface, and they are at an increased risk of wildfires as we continue to feel the impacts of climate change,” Vice Chair Cutter said, sponsor of all five bills. “I'm excited about the bills we advanced today, which will look at innovative ways to remove and utilize biomass, help homeowners with costly slash and debris removal, protect pets, help rural communities apply for grants and raise community awareness about what actions people can take to mitigate their risk. As Vice Chair and longtime member of the Wildfire Matters interim committee, I'm always thrilled to work with stakeholders and colleagues to forward policy to help protect our forests and our communities.”

Bill 2, sponsored by Reps. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, and Velasco, and Sens. Cutter and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, would encourage agencies to address the needs of Coloradans with animals during an emergency, and also include provisions for the evacuation, shelter, and transport of these individuals and their pets. Beginning January 2025, local governments would also be strongly encouraged to make information for animal emergency preparedness available. 

“Preventing destructive wildfires and protecting our communities begins with good mitigation methods and resources at the local level,” said Snyder, sponsor of Bills 2, 5 and 6. “The bills we advanced today would establish programs to aid local governments with wildfire mitigation, better connect rural communities with grant money to close the gap in their wildfire mitigation and response efforts, and encourage cities and counties to provide pet-friendly emergency shelters and emergency resources. Wildfires are a very serious risk in our state, and these policies will save lives, prevent devastating damage, and protect Coloradans from wildfire threats.”

“I saw first hand as the Senator for Louisville during the Marshall Fire, how important responding to the threat of wildfires really is, which is why I am sponsoring two bills to help Colorado families and communities be better prepared,” said Jaquez Lewis, sponsor of Bills 2 and 6. “These bills will provide resources to help folks make plans to ensure that everyone in their families, including their pets, are safe during an emergency, and will improve the aftermath for victims in the cleanup process. I promised I would be there for my community then, and I will continue to work to reduce the risks from wildfires."

Sponsored by Reps. Velasco and Snyder, and Sens. Cutter and Will, Bill 5 aims to help rural communities obtain wildfire-related grants. The bill requires that the Rural Opportunity Office provide assistance to rural communities to identify and apply for state and federal grants related to wildfire mitigation, prevention, response, and risk-management efforts. Additionally, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade would maintain a list of government grant programs on its website to further ease the process.

The committee also approved Bill 9, sponsored by Reps. Velasco and Tammy Story, D-Conifer, and Sen. Cutter. The bill would require the Colorado State Forest Service to continue its enhanced wildfire outreach campaign through 2027, as well as other outreach efforts that increase awareness of wildfire risk mitigation in the wildland-urban interface. 

“When it comes to reducing wildfire risk, we need every Coloradan living in the foothills and forested areas to know how they can protect their homes,” said Story, sponsor of Bill 9. “Living in the wildland-urban interface means we need to take extra precautions to protect our personal property and our neighbors. This includes reducing vegetation and fire fuels within 5 feet of our homes and keeping gutters clean. This legislation ensures communities receive information on effective wildfire mitigation strategies that will keep our beloved communities safer in the wake of a wildfire event. The bill also continues the Colorado State Forest Service’s efforts to educate Coloradans about these science-based strategies, which are our strongest barrier against wildfires.”

Bill 6, sponsored by Sens. Cutter and Jaquez Lewis, and Reps. Snyder and Dickson, would create two programs to support local governments in wildfire risk mitigation. The first program would support county efforts to remove slash, which is a residue created by wildfire mitigation efforts. If passed, the Department of Natural Resources would select counties to participate in the program, and provide information and resources to facilitate slash removal.

The second program would help local governments with post-disaster debris removal for residences. Under this bill, the Department of Public Safety would be in charge of providing guidance to local governments to facilitate debris removal.

“We’re dedicated to keeping Coloradans safe from the risk of wildfire, and today we advanced bills that will do just that,” said Dickson, sponsor of Bills 1 and 6. “Our bills will help prevent wildfires by keeping our forests healthy and delivering data on the use of biochar to sustainably protect our communities. We'll also help local governments to deal with the aftermath of wildfires, including streamlining cleanup and coordinating federal disaster assistance. I am so pleased these evidence-focused policies will move forward to keep our communities and our forests safe.”

The bills will now go to the Legislative Council for approval before being introduced next session. Once introduced in the 2024 session, interim bills will follow the legislative process in the same manner as all other bills.

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