DENVER – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Colorado U.S. Representative Joe Neguse welcomed $720,890 in funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership for the Southern Front Range Watershed Project in Colorado.

The Joint Chiefs’ program supports efforts across the West to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems. Bennet worked to pass an amendment through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to formally authorize Joint Chiefs’, based on legislation he introduced with Neguse, U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), U.S. Representative Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), and U.S Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). 

Senator Bennet said, “We’ve seen firsthand on the ground how critical this program is in Colorado to support projects that mitigate damage from wildfires. I’m grateful for Senator Hoeven’s and Representative Neguse’s partnership to authorize the program in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and I’m glad to see this new funding coming to Colorado.”

“The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership was critical in 2020 in holding off the advance of the record-setting Cameron Peak wildfire, and it is essential we continue to expand it to support future wildfire resiliency and recovery efforts,” said Neguse.

The funding will support the new Southern Front Range project in Colorado which will treat vegetation in the project area within Pueblo, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties. Treatments would be adjacent to or near the towns of Cuchara, Aguilar, Stonewall, Wetmore, Westcliffe, Beulah, and Rye, Colorado.

There are approximately 12,600 structures within the project area and a collective population of about 12,000 full-time residents, with another 1,000 part-time residents. An estimated one-third of the full-time residents in the project area are Hispanic, including some areas of 50% or more minority residents.

The Colorado State Forest Service Wildfire Risk map shows wildfire risk in the project area as moderate to high, with some areas of very high risk spread. Fire intensity is shown as moderate to highest across most of the project area. Significant portions of the project area are in the high to highest priority areas on the overall composite map of the 2020 Colorado State Forest Service Action Plan.

This project would address these priorities by decreasing vegetation densities and fuel loading on public and private lands, reducing the potential for large, crown dominated fire and improving forest health. 

Multiple partners are working together on the project such as the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC), Purgatoire Water Partners (PWP), the City of Trinidad, the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Wildfire Protection (SPAWP), the eight Firewise USA communities in the project area, local water conservation districts, local fire protection districts and county officials.

This funding will support 41 projects, includes $15.3 million for 17 new projects and $33 million to complete work on 24 projects previously selected in 2020 and 2021.