Mr. Lester addressed challenges and opportunities for the agency. He mentioned that last year more acres burned than in any other year, except 2002 and that forty million dollars was spent on fire suppression during the last fire season.
About three million people live in wildland urban interface (WUI) areas. In fact, the WUI is close to 25 percent developed, so proactive wildfire mitigation is important. This year, the agency is spending one million dollars in grant funding for forest health. Mr. Lester stated that on average, every dollar spent on mitigation saves three dollars on fire suppression.
Mr. Lester talked about CO-WRAP, a web-based map tool that allows users to assess wildfire risks. The tool has many layers in the map, including the likelihood for an area to burn, intensity of fires, as well as historic fire information. CO-WRAP provides an interface between the public and planning officials and assists with community planning efforts.
He discussed the opportunity to provide a predictable funding source for fire suppression and mitigation efforts, as the current funding structure is highly variable. The agency receives a variety of grant funding, including restoration grants through severance taxes and mitigation grants through the Department of Natural Resources. There are typically more grant applications than funds available.
He also mentioned that the agency is facing capacity constraints, growing wildfire risks, and treating acres is expensive in the front range. Twenty four million forested acres with a high risk of fire exist in the front range.