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Category Archives: Forest Health

Colorado Wildland Fire Conference- September 2018

CO Wildfire Conference Promotion flyer

Colorado Wildland Fire Conference 

September 18-20, 2018

People, Places, and Perceptions – Wildfire and the Human Condition


The Lodge at Mountaineer Square,
620 Gothic Road,
Mt. Crested Butte, CO

About the conference:

This year’s conference will provide an in-depth exploration of how human dimensions affect community adaptation to wildfire. We’ll examine why people adopt or reject best practices, how we understand risk, and how we collectively perceive notions about wildfire. The conference will offer a suite of learning opportunities including – keynote speakers, networking events and workshops, panel discussions, break-out sessions, and social gatherings.


SCHOLARSHIPS now available!  Fire Adapted Colorado is offering a limited number of scholarships to cover registration. Find out more and apply HEREDue August 6th.

COST: Early registration = $295;  Early Registration ENDS August 31st. FACO Member registration = $245; Late registration = $350.  Register HERE.

LODGING: Special rates for conference attendees at various area hotels, click HERE for more info. We recommend you CALL to reserve your room! Call BEFORE August 18th for the special conference rate.

DINNER AND LIVE MUSIC: Featuring the band Hardscrabble at the Ten Peaks venue above Crested Butte, September 19, 2018

LOOKING FOR MORE? See this video about places to go and things to do in Crested Butte!

See you there in September!!

CUSP is hiring

WUI Mitigation Specialist

CUSP and COCO, Inc have an opening for a self-starter committed to reducing wildfire risk within the Upper Arkansas river basin.  The position will be based out of the Salida Colorado State Forest Service Office and will work within the Upper Arkansas Basin on forest Health and wildfire risk reduction Initiatives.  We are looking for an amazing, independent self-starter that can help to build a collaborative mitigation program from Leadville to Salida.  The employee will report directly to COCO leadership.

Click on the link to learn more: WUI Mitigation Specialist Job Description

Post-Fire Recovery Information


  July 11, 2018



After a catastrophic wildfire, quick action must be taken to minimize social, environmental, and economic devastation. Given enough time, forests eventually heal from wildfire, but that healing process can take decades or even centuries. The landscape won’t heal quickly without human intervention. Timely rehabilitation efforts can reduce the environmental impacts of fire, and can have a positive impact on the community’s social and economic situation in the months and years after the fire.

Perhaps most importantly, quick and effective rehabilitation efforts improve public health and safety.

Information regarding post-fire recovery and restoration is available

The page provides website links containing valuable information. We hope it will prove useful in helping our community to develop plans and priorities to protect citizens, homes, and essential infrastructure.

The Economics of Wildfire – 1/21/2015

Wildfire mitigation work has many benefits including boosting local economies

Wildfire mitigation work has many benefits including boosting local economies

Every year we hear about the destructive power of wildfire. Whether it’s here in Colorado or in Arizona or California, more and more people and environments are being impacted by intense wildfires. The cost of wildfires, along with acres burned and homes destroyed, is an oft-cited statistic in media and government reports as we seek to quantify the loss. But these estimates never fully capture the true cost of a catastrophic wildfire.

The cost estimates usually include easily quantifiable things like suppression costs and homes consumed, but less defined costs and long-term impacts are often left out. Getting at these more complex losses is essential for truly understanding the wide-reaching impacts of wildfires.

So what are we leaving out? Many wildfire professionals have been grappling with this question for some time now. While no clear-cut, all-encompassing measure may ever be found, better and more holistic estimates are being formulated.

It is clear that communities devastated by fire can lose out economically. Small towns that depend on tourism may see those dollars dry up as visitors go elsewhere in favor of an un-charred landscape. If roads and other key infrastructure are compromised or wiped out, residents can be isolated and outsiders may be barred from getting in.

Amplified flooding following wildfire also takes a toll. Houses and businesses that made it through the wildfire can face years of flood threats, leaving residents and businesses scrambling to mitigate flood damage while still recovering from the shock of a near miss from the wildfire. In addition to properties nestled in the woods that burned being devalued following the fire, those that lay in the path of post-fire floods often see property values deflate.

Infrastructure impacts from floods can also be severe. If you have travelled along Highway 24 in the past couple years during the late summer monsoon season, you may have experienced road closures or delays below the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar. These closures and delays have an impact on businesses and economies on both sides of the pass.

Then there are those losses that are much harder to define. Incalculable costs like loss of life and health impacts have long-term implications for communities. Respiratory illnesses from poor air quality and smoke inhalation during a fire, emotional damage from surviving a traumatic event, and grief from any number of losses during a fire can all impact the quality of life for individuals and communities long after the fire is extinguished.

Perhaps the farthest-reaching impacts come in the form of harm to ecosystems and watersheds. In areas where extremely hot flames left something approaching a moonscape in their wake, ecosystem and watershed recovery become a very long process. As the land heals, flooding and accelerated erosion are constant challenges that further inhibit healthy vegetation growth on denuded slopes, wildlife habitat restoration, and water quality improvements. These large-scale fires affect many of the benefits we derive from ecosystems. As described in The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S., a 2009 publication by the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition, “Ecosystem services are the benefits we derive from ecological processes and functions. Examples from the forests and grasslands affected by wildfire include timber and non-timber forest products, wildlife enjoyed for viewing or hunting, regulation of water quality and quantity, carbon sequestration and storage, soil creation and retention, nutrient cycling, and satisfaction of recreation, cultural, and spiritual needs and desires.”

In the same report, a case study on the 2002 Hayman Fire helps put wildfire costs into a broader context.  Research after the Hayman Fire indicated that suppression costs accounted for only about 20 percent of a total estimated cost of over $207 million. Included in the total estimate are direct costs like suppression, rehabilitation, and broader impacts. It’s safe to say this total cost is likely under-estimated because restoration work in the Hayman Fire burn scar is still ongoing.

Wildfires have long-term costs.  CUSP volunteers continue with restoration efforts in the 2002 Hayman burn scar

Wildfires have long-term costs. CUSP volunteers continue with restoration efforts in the 2002 Hayman burn scar

We can therefore think of the most ‘destructive’ fires, not as the ones that burned the most homes or required the most money to suppress, but as those wildfires that have the most profound short and long-term impacts on lives, communities, ecosystems, and natural resources.

Beginning to better understand the true cost of wildfires can help push us all towards prioritizing the much more cost-effective practice of wildfire mitigation. In addition to helping prevent some of the devastating losses incurred during catastrophic wildfire, wildfire mitigation comes with economic benefits of its own.

As more wildfires burn and more people flock to mountain communities, more attention is being paid to the need for wildfire mitigation. At both the federal and state levels, officials recognize that the combination of unhealthy forests and growing populations in the wildland-urban interface (where development meets the forest) is driving up the risk of intense and tremendously costly wildfires. A Colorado State University study estimates Colorado’s wildland-urban interface will grow from 715,500 acres in 2000 to 2,161,400 acres by 2030, a 300 percent increase (see map). With this growth comes a drastic increase in the values at risk in our fire-adapted forests.

But this growth, and the recognition that proactive action is more cost-effective than reactive action, also provides opportunities. Funding from state and federal entities is helping more organizations mitigate forests in high-risk areas near communities. These dollars help infuse local economies, and can support small businesses.

For example, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP is a nonprofit based in Lake George, CO and serves the Upper South Platte Watershed) annually secures grant funding to complete about 2,000 acres of wildfire mitigation in high-risk areas within the watershed. By partnering with a variety of local forestry contractors to spend out grants to get wildfire mitigation work done on the ground, the money from these grants helps to support our local communities. Last year alone, CUSP provided over two million dollars in funding to contractors undertaking forest management projects in the watershed. Bringing this money into the community not only helps CUSP and local forest contractors support and hire employees, but also helps support other businesses in the area where these employees spend money.

Supporting wildfire mitigation therefore makes sense not just to protect our treasured forests, watersheds, homes, communities, and way of life, but also as a way to support our local economies.

If you would like more information about wildfire mitigation on your land or in your community, please contact CUSP by visiting, calling us at 719-748-0033, or emailing us at


You can also find this article in the January edition of the Ute Country News.


If you are interested in learning more about this topic, check out the articles and resources below:


Economic Sustainability of Mitigation Projects – 12/9/2014

Because our watershed is largely forested, forest health is a large part of what we do.  Sustainably managing forests has wide-reaching benefits for ecological systems, water quality, wildlife, and human communities (see our ecological restoration and wildfire mitigation approach here).  Successfully promoting healthy forests and reaping all these benefits must truly be a collaborative community effort.  To this end, we work with private landowners, forest contractors, public land managers, and other organizations on forested lands throughout the watershed.  Getting forest work done requires smart financial planning to ensure the resources needed to work in the forest are available for years to come.

Jonathan Bruno, our Chief Operating Officer, recently contributed an article to the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network Blog with insights into ensuring economic sustainability of mitigation projects.  Check out Jonathan’s words of wisdom below, and take a look at the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network Blog for more perspectives and information about adapting to wildfire from experts across the country.


Insights to Ensure Economic Sustainability of Mitigation Projects
Written by: Jon Bruno, Chief Operating Officer, Coalition for the Upper South Platte

Maddox1-300x225The mission of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) is to “protect the water quality and ecological health of the Upper South Platte Watershed, through the cooperative efforts of watershed stakeholders, with emphasis placed on community values and economic sustainability.” This mission has been the guiding principle that I have used over the years for CUSP’s work and endeavors. This blog will explore economic sustainability as it relates to working with forest contractors.

Over the years, CUSP has engaged many forest contractors.  Without our numerous, diverse and varied contractors, CUSP would never complete the 2000 annual acres of management within our high-risk areas.  This year alone we have provided over two million dollars in funding to contractors undertaking forest management projects within the watershed. We depend upon each other to complete our important work.  It is a symbiotic relationship at it’s most basic form – without acres getting completed, CUSP would not be competitive in our efforts to seek grant funding; without CUSP, contractors would not have the work that has often propelled them into the next realm of operations. Throughout this process, I have learned some important lessons:

 1) Planning is key to successful projects.

Mapping & Marking: Know your project and property boundaries.
We have had far too many close calls related to ownership due to poor spatial data.  Often owners mistakenly think they own property that they do not, and even more common is faulty assessors data.  When in doubt, contact adjacent owners, and mutually walk and agree upon the lines before beginning the work.  Always re-walk the boundaries to ensure your ribbon or paint is still visible. We flag property lines with ribbon on the lines hanging in a single streamer from a tree, and two horizontal ribbons wrapped on a tree to connote a corner.  For some reason squirrels and hikers love to pull the flags!

On large projects we use the management by prescription approach, but will provide a sample marking on an acre or two.  For this approach, and with smaller lots, we paint trees identified for removal with a high quality tree paint.  Be sure to mark on the same side of each tree – there is nothing worse than having to make a contractor re-enter because you were not paying attention and marked on different sides and from different angles. Also mark with a bright color – CUSP uses orange or blue.  Those white dots are far too hard to see!  CUSP often will re-mark an area after the first pass.  Make sure the contractor understands that this may occur.  With that said, some of our partners have, in the past, re-marked areas over ten times.  This is unacceptable and very costly for an operator.  If you do not have your prescription dialed in, then the project is not ready for contracting.

Request for Proposals (RFP).
Consider your RFP documents as some of the most important elements in the planning phase of your work. In this document be clear about the goals, timelines, equipment needs and if there is a bond, specific insurance, or a damage deposit required.  Always discuss the prescription in detail and know up front what the correct equipment is for the job – A 100 hp  skidsteer, masticator might not be the best of equipment for a 200 acre Ponderosa whole tree removal project. Provide the contractors ample time to bid and review the project.  CUSP requires all bidders to participate in a “show-me-tour” or site walk prior to bidding.  By doing this we give everyone a chance to price the work correctly.  When responding to contractor questions, make sure that all potential bidders also see the question and answer. I often take notes at the “show-me tour” and then send out an e-mail to everyone.

 2) Selection criteria is more than one number.

CUSP does not select contractors based only on their bid amount. We consider past work history, references, assumed ability to complete within budget and on time, and known customer service.  Contractors often have more interaction with our clients than we do, so make sure they will represent you well. As I view the economic sustainability of our region, I also rank those contractors that have a local presence higher than those from out of the region or the state.  This is vital to strong local forest economies.  For every dollar I give them our region feels the benefits, from the forest employees to the coffee shops and the fuel stations.

 3) Contracts are your guidebook for operations.

The more detail you put within your contracts with regard to the project prescriptions, the more likely that you and the contractor will achieve real results with limited challenges.  Always carry a contract copy with you when meeting with contractors – refer to this document when discussing requirements and outcomes. It usually takes me a week to draft a contract with all of the pertinent information for the project.

 4) Budgeting project payments requires planning.

The worst part of my job is telling the contractor that their payment for completed work is not yet ready.  Because our funding is often post-project reimbursement, we have within our agreements a 60-days net term.  While contractors often scoff at this, it is necessary to allow us enough time to send requests to funders and receive the cash to cover the project costs. CUSP has limited cash reserves, and this process has still proven to get tricky.  Recently, we had to hold payments to the dire end and this caused a great deal of stress for our contractors and for us. With this challenge in mind, here are a few ideas to help:

  • When using cost share dollars, where the property owners or other funding sources are used to pay for a part of the work, consider entering into agreements whereas the owner pays the contractor directly part or all of the cost at the end of completion.  I have several owners that can pay and are more able to “float” the project cost than CUSP.  When a contractor receives even half at completion of the invoice they are happy.
  • Consider applying for a line of credit with a local lender to cover the costs during those thin times.
  • Plan your reimbursements and project timelines well. CUSP has several grants that allow for quarterly billing.  When I have a $250,000 project, I make sure that they will not finish the work in the middle of the quarter, but rather that they will finish closer to my reporting periods.
  • Be honest with your contractors and consider what options are available to help them make ends meet.  Forest work is expensive and many of our contractors have significant loans on their equipment.

5) Know your responsibility in ensuring safe and legal work environments.

As a contract manager, it is my responsibility to ensure crew, client, and staff safety.  If I see something that is contrary to that, I will stop the project immediately.  Know your local laws, OSHA regulations, Department of Public Health and Environment rules, and have all of these contact numbers available. We recently had a non-reportable petroleum spill on a site and were able to respond rapidly and correctly to the problem.  It was essential to understand the rules related to accidental spills and was even more important that our contractor had a spill response plan and kit with him at the time (a requirement within our contracts).

If working with crew members from out of the country, make sure that they are eligible to work in the US (I-9’s).  Only hire contractors that provide their staff with the required workers compensation, proper equipment and PPE, and who treat their people well.

 6) Keep good records.

When reviewing work and certifying it as complete, always do this with your contractor and the funder, if required.  In our case, the Colorado State Forest Service must certify the work as complete before we can request reimbursement for the work.  Take notes and provide these notes to the contractor for review.  In some cases I will even make all parties present sign the notes, acknowledging that they are aware of the items to be wrapped up.

Some of my strongest relationships and friendships are with my local contractors.  While the relationships can be heated at times, it is important to understand that we are dependent upon each other for success.  I rely on them to give me insight on operations and challenges and they depend upon CUSP to keep them up-to-date on the funding news, new scientific developments and the future of forest management.  It is my responsibility to give them the tools to succeed and I am honored and humbled when I see a small outfit purchase their first skidder or hire new employees. Just this year CUSP provided a $150,000 dollar contract to a small outfit that has only worked on small lots. Now it is our responsibility to ensure that they succeed in reducing the fire risk, increasing forest resilience and in growing their company. It is our duty to work with and manage our contractors in a way that makes us all shine. 

See this post on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network Blog