Badger Creek Fire obvious from Highway 230

A motorist drives west on Wyoming Highway 230, a few miles shy of Mountain Home. A wall of blackened trees is visible from the highway.

Albany County will has applied for nearly $200,000 in grant funding to reduce fire hazards around private property in Medicine Bow National Forest and the Boulder Ridge neighborhoods near the Colorado border.

If the county receives the funding, the program will provide up to $2,100 in funding for certain private landowners to create “defensible space” around their cabins to prevent forest fires from consuming structures.

Defensible space treatments consist of thinning trees and bushes within 200 feet of buildings.

The funds will allow up to $900 per acre for private landowners to create fuel breaks and work on other tree-thinning measures.

Funding is already available for those measures under a grant the county received in 2014.

The 2014 grant funding provided $280,000 in initial funding and Albany County grants manager Tai Wright said the account has a remaining balance of about $125,000.

The grant funding requires landowners to provide a 50 percent match for all funding received from the county.

As a result, the county is struggling to fully spend the funds before the grant period ends June 2019. Wright expects at least some unspent funding will be returned to Wyoming State Forestry Division, which will transfer the money to another county.

County officials are hoping the Keystone Fire and the Badger Creek Fire spurs residents with cabins surrounded by forest service land to take advantage of available funding.

“Lots of people don’t know that they get dollar-for dollar help to do ‘defensible space,’” Commissioner Heber Richardson said. “In light of the fires, I would think there would be higher levels of interest.”

The 2014 grant funding takes a county-wide approach, but after the struggle to find interested landowners, the new grant application is aimed at being competitive by focusing on fuel treatments in communities in southern Albany County.

“To write a grant that is competitive is to write a grant that’s more specific,” Wright said.

Because the contract period request has also been reduced from five years to three years under the new contract, Wright said the application should also be “more competitive than we have been in the past few years.”

One half of the grant application asks the state forestry division for $103,219, which would be available for three years, beginning in 2019, to landowners in the southern Snowy Range, which 530 cabins are nestled among U.S. Forest Service land in 11 communities including Rambler, Keystone, Douglas Creek, Foxborough, Foxborough Extended, Somber Hill, Fox Park, Wold, Wyocolo and Mountain Home.

The grant funding would also continue funding the position of Lane Lindley, a contractor who has spent the last 14 years working with landowners to create defensible space in southern Albany County.

Since Lindley has been working on the defensible space program, there have been 159 properties that have been treated.

With more than 50 percent of trees dead in the area, lack of egress in the area makes those communities particularly susceptible to the Type 2 fires like the Keystone Fire and Badger Creek Fire that have threatened property in the last two years.

If the new grant is funded, Lindley expects he will be able to get another 30 properties to be treated in coming years. That would be just 5 percent of the total properties in that community.

The number of properties Lindley’s able to get treated each year depends largely on the interest of property owners. In one year, he only completed 10 defensible space projects completed. Another year, there were more than 60.

Creating defensible space in the Snowy Range is a never-ending project for Lindley.

The life-span of the defensible space projects lasts just about 10 years before major maintenance is needed Even after 14 years, he’s still working to building rapport with landowners and educate them about fire mitigation.

“I have to keep trying again and again and again,” Lindley said. “And hopefully, one day I’ll get them all.”

When Lindley works with landowners, he also explains to them ways that other aspects near their cabin — like woodpiles or storage under a deck — can be fire risks.

“I’m really proud because then these people are thinking about fire safety all the time,” he said. “People think I want to cut down every tree, but that is certainly not the case. I want to leave you with as many healthy spaced out trees as possible. If you have an ornamental juniper tree right next to your house, I am going to say that needs to be gone.”

Albany County is also asking for $82,219 to for fuels reduction work in the Boulder Ridge area about 25 miles south of Laramie.

Thirty-seven of the 103 cabins there already have defensible space and Lindley hopes to complete 20 more defensible space projects under a new grant. Like the communities in the southern Snowy Range, the Boulder Ridge area has more than 50 percent of trees now dead and limited egress options.

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