The Southwest Wildfire Impact Fund, or SWIF, would enable regional partners to address the pressing issue of increased risk of wildfire for communities in Southwest Colorado. SWIF is a proactive and collaborative approach that includes planning, financing, and implementation of mitigation work for healthier forests and resilient communities.
SWIF will focus on treatments on private lands and work with existing local partners to engage and recruit private landowners to conduct treatments on their property. SWIF and property owners will share the cost of the treatments, reflecting the personal as well as community-wide benefits of doing this mitigation work. For every $1 spent on mitigation work, it is estimated that $5 is saved in reduced or eliminated post-fire damages.
Forest health treatments can reduce a region’s risk of wildfire by thinning small or dead trees and thinning helps the remaining trees better survive environmental pressures as they have more space, light, and water to grow. Historically, communities in Southwest Colorado have tended to be reactive, moved to action in times of wildfire and clean-up, but lacked the funding and regional coordination to proactively implement mitigation work together to restore forest health and support the recreation and tourism economies that depend on them. The SWIF would address this issue by creating a shared vision for healthier forests and funding this work through a variety of sources.
SWIF will work alongside the broader Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI), a broad stakeholder collaborative effort for increased focus, scale, and pace of forest restoration in Southwest Colorado. Specifically, SWIF is the foundational strategy for RMRI’s work on private lands in shared focal areas.
To realize this vision of “resilient communities” able to recover from wildfires more quickly and with less damage to the communities, watershed and environment, local governments can come together to form an interagency authority called the SWIF Authority to manage SWIF. SWIF will function as a revolving loan fund, where the money is spent on treatments prioritized by Authority members. Authority members will then repay these loans over time, thus replenishing the fund and creating a sustainable structure to tackle long-term wildfire risk.
Initial funding for these treatments will come from a variety of sources, increasing the amount available to collaboratively treat larger areas for maximum impact and lower expenses through capturing efficiencies not otherwise available on a more piecemeal approach.
Colorado’s timber industry needs to be reinvigorated and grown for 21st century skilled and well-paying jobs – this is a significant goal, especially in rural Colorado. The SWIF project team is already working with partners to ensure there’s a workforce that is ready and well-trained for the next 100 years and beyond to accomplish the forest restoration work in front of us.
The recent 2018 experience of La Plata County’s 416 Fire provides great examples, such as Falls Creek subdivision’s mitigation treatments, of the difference proactive thinning can make in protecting lives and property when faced with a wildfire racing through the landscape. The SWIF project aims to help more subdivisions and communities accomplish the work by helping to provide the means to get the work done at an affordable cost.
SWIF project proposes a proactive approach that addresses these challenges, one by one, and provides a way forward. Instead of helplessly waiting for the next wildfire disaster, together, SWIF, with its many partners, can put forth a path that invests resources and capital in doing much more now, for the sake of our communities and the natural landscape and environment so many area residents love, treasure and depend upon.