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Gunnison County selected for planning assistance for wildfires

Assessment includes land use and development codes analysis

By Cayla Vidmar

The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program is kicking off for Gunnison County, which was selected in a competitive national process to participate in the program at no cost to the county. CPAW combines a team of multi-disciplinary professionals from land use planners, foresters, researchers and policy experts to provide a year-long wildfire planning development for the county.

The group presented an overview of the program to the Board of County Commissioners earlier this month, and described how the program works to adapt different community plans, codes and regulatory ordinances to wildfire risk planning. CPAW is made up of experts from numerous wildfire and policy organizations.

“Our expertise with the CPAW program is how … codes, plans and ordinances can connect to this larger opportunity to adapt to fires,” said Molly Mowery, who conducts land use planning for Wildfire Planning International.

Mowery explained that the pilot CPAW program was launched in Summit County, where they “found a real opportunity to look at not just where wildfires could be better inserted into land use documents, but where land use could be better inserted into wildfire documents.” Mowery says they’re making a link from wildfire planning into community planning.

CPAW will spend the next year combining land use planning, wildfire risk assessments, forest fire behavior, research and policy support, along with collaboration with the community, to develop final recommendations for the county to employ or not. Such recommendations will include tools such as landscaping regulations; watershed management plans; building codes; land use development; subdivision design standards and more.

Mowery explained that the group will evaluate the existing Land Use Regulation (LUR), and any other plans that they deem relevant to the process, and identify ways to update them for wildfire planning.

Board chairperson Jonathan Houck asked if they would create two separate recommendations for the north valley and south valley, to accommodate the unique environment and development in both areas. Kelly Johnston, who works for Wildland Professional Solutions and specializes in forestry, fire behavior and risk, explained that they would provide one assessment that accounts for the diversity of the area. Mowery explained the differences would likely be discussed in the details in the documents.

Commissioner Roland Mason mentioned his desire for the group to engage with the county on the other side of Kebler Pass. Johnston said they’ve been working with stakeholders in that area already.

Until about June, CPAW will be conducting community research and analysis, and will then develop the draft recommendations between July and September. The commissioners, along with Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County Community and Economic Development, decided that following the draft recommendation phase of the program, they would like to schedule a work session to discuss the findings.

Mason said that given the evaluation of land use regulations, the county could expect public comments and questions regarding how the findings might impact development.

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