Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Lumberjack, a Doctor, and a Tree Hugger, walk into a Bar

Location: Nederland, CO 80466, USA

The Lumberjack:

Mayor Gierlach at a Saws & Slaws event in Nederland
When I was first elected in 2008, I had said that in order to address the pine beetle epidemic, all of us Nedheads will eventually need to learn to become lumberjacks of some sort. I purchased a new STIHL chainsaw at Indian Peaks Ace Hardware and it sat in my garage for a couple of years. Since then, the pine beetles have continued to proliferate and the forest fire risk has only increased. 

Then I saw an impressive presentation that Saws and Slaws gave to PROSAB in Ned. I was inspired to participate in a Saws and Slaws event. I dusted off the chainsaw, and they taught me how to properly use it, for which I am grateful. These events are very rewarding, and they need four people for each sawyer, so you do not need to be skilled to participate. In fact, they need people to only coordinate, make food, or even just take pictures.

Saws and Slaws has become so successful in Nederland, that we are applying to be the first community in Boulder County to become an official FireWise Community. Saws and Slaws was recently featured on the NFPA Wildfire Safety blog.

This year is especially important to participate in Saws and Slaws and you can check the Town's Forest Health web page here for more information, or email nedforesthealth@gmail.com. In fact, the Board of Trustees are already planning for an alternative to Fourth of July fireworks. It is that bad folks.

The Doctor:

The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) is typically pronounced as, "Doctor Cog". There are 57 participating local government representatives on the Board of Directors, and I represent Nederland in this organization. DRCOG is designated as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Denver region. It is also the regional Planning Commission, and it created the regional Master Plan called MetroVision 2035. We have begun the MetroVision 2040 Plan process, and I encourage anyone interested to get involved. I feel it is important to play a role in regionalism, because it is the true path to sustainability.
Mayor Gierlach on the floor of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG)
MetroVision 2035 was the first regional plan that placed an emphasis on sustainability and incorporated several new goals into the plan:
- Increase urban density by 10%
- Locate 50% of new housing and 75% of new employment in urban centers
- Protect a total of 880 sq. mi. of state and local parks and open space
- Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60%
- Lower single-occupant vehicle (SOV) trips to work from 74% to 65%
- Reduce daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita by 10%
Each year the plan can be amended, and a few months ago, an amendment was proposed that stated:

Growth will be strategically designated to conserve appropriate areas for urban development beyond 2035 to maintain separation between the larger urban area and smaller outlying communities and avoid open spaces, environmentally sensitive areas, and high wildfire hazard zones. ... Development is discouraged in areas designated as high wildfire hazard zones in community wildfire protection plans and/or county comprehensive land use plans, unless Colorado State Forest Service FireWise guidelines are followed and incorporated into the land development and building permit approval process.

In layman's terms; nobody gets a building permit, unless they cut all the trees within 35 feet of their house, identify a water source (or build a lake), and provide a wider road (especially switchbacks) for fire truck access.

What communities are considered high wildfire hazard zones? In the Boulder County CWPP, all of Nederland, Eldora, Gold Hill, Ward, Jamestown, Allenspark, and Lyons. Also in the City of Boulder, the neighborhoods of Table Mesa, University Hill and Lee Hill. Elsewhere in the DRCOG region, much of Gilpin County including Rollinsville. Clear Creek County's CWPP indicates most areas (84%) are at least high wildfire hazard except the few high density areas like Empire, Georgetown, Idaho Springs and Silver Plume.

The Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) in Jefferson County, identified over 70 communities in the high wildfire hazard zones. I listed as many as I could at the bottom of this article. I found nine communities in Douglas County's CWPP.

We are facing a very real fire danger threat, and after all, Nederland is to become the first community in Boulder County to be a certified FireWise community. No Problem?

The Tree Hugger:

Taking a 15 minute break from assisting evacuees
from the Four Mile Fire, I took this photo from Eldora
FireWise guidelines make sense in unincorporated areas of Boulder County where people are on a parcel of five acres, but what about 'downtown' Nederland? We have ample access with roads. We have tested fire hydrants for water (thanks to our Public Works Dept. and NFPD). But because in town lot sizes are smaller and the density is much greater, if we cut down the trees 35 feet from each house, there would be no trees downtown Ned at all!

Trees stabilize soil and provide oxygen. They provide habitat in riparian zones, and mitigate pollution from storm water drainage systems.

Last summer in Nederland, we have been working with some of the top soil scientists in the region on planning how to use composted materials to reduce landfills and replenish nutrients in the forest floor to retain water and keep the forest healthy and drought resistant. We are devising the best methods to restore areas burned by forest fire to reduce soil erosion and pollution. We have been designing plans to filter and clean storm water runoff utilizing bio-swales. The NedPeds Project is a good example. We would like to plant trees in downtown Nederland, not cut them all down. 

In Nederland, we are completing the update to our Comprehensive Plan, and we will be updating our building codes. We would like to encourage people to obtain building permits to upgrade their homes to protect them from fire risk and increase energy efficiency. We are addressing the very real fire danger in more appropriate ways than requiring all the trees in downtown Ned to be cut down. It is better for the environment, and it reduces fire risk, and protects the watershed.

The Punch Line:

The bartender says, "Let me guess. Another round of Scotch Pine?"

I have to represent all three interests – The Lumberjack, the Doctor, and the Tree Hugger. So, in last month's meeting, I threw up more red flags than the Nov 25, 1951 game between the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears. I was able to convince the DRCOG Board of Directors to postpone it, so that we could re-write the language to allow local control over our own building codes, and still achieve fire hazard protection which is appropriate for our small town in the mountains, as well as many others.

We collaborated with Boulder, Gilpin, and Clear Creek County Commissioners to come up with more appropriate language. Three months later in our last meeting, I supported the change, and it passed uneventfully in the consent agenda. The new language reads as follows:
Development in areas designated as high wildfire hazard zones in community wildfire protection plans and/or county comprehensive land use plans should follow the most recent Colorado State Forest Service Firewise construction guidelines or local wildfire mitigation regulations. Where practical, local governments should guide new development away from high wildfire hazard zones.

[Here is a Video Valediction] ... and now for something completely different. Monty Python's Lumberjack Song [What is a Video Valediction?]

Note: Jefferson County communities in the high wildfire hazard zone in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) include: Echo Hills, Brook Forrest, Cub Creek, Rosedale and Segar Acres, Beaver Brook Canyon, Highland Hills, Chase, Elmgreen, Pleasant Lane, Homestead Hideaway, Buffalo Park, most of Evergreen, Greystone, Independant Heights, Forrest Hill, Mountain Park, Bear Mountain Vista, Stanley Park, French Springs, Marshner, Soda Creek, Fox Ridge, Circle K, Bendemeer Valley, Golden Willow, Greystone, Bear Creek, Diamond park, Wilderness Point, Beaver Brook, Hoffer Heights, Pine Valley, Blue Creek, Hiwan Hills, Douglas Park, Hillcrest Village, Peaceful Hills, Herzman Mesa, Wonderview, Pine Crest, Sunset Heights, High Prarie, Fair View, Craigmont, Marshdale, Tanoa, Overlook, Palo Verde, Troutdale, Glen Eyrie, Columbine Road, El Pinal, Kittredge, Quartz Mountain, Mountain Meadow Heights, Timbers Estates, Hidden Valley, Ruby Ranch, Nob Hill, Avery Achres, El Rancho, Indian Hills, Willow springs, Willow Brook.

In Douglas County: Bear Paw, Douglas Mountain, Geneva Glen, Lower Canyon, Middle Crawford Gultch, North Ranch, Rye Gulch, The Grange, and Thea Gulch are in the high wildfire hazard zone.
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