CO Releases Latest Round of Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program’s Workforce Development Grant

Bluebell bellflower, 2022, in front of a burned tree from the High Park Fire (Photo by Blaine Howerton)

Recently, Governor Polis and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the 2023 release of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program’s Workforce Development Grant. This grant will provide funding to send forestry and mitigation crews from Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA) and State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT) within the Department of Corrections (DOC) to complete wildfire mitigation projects around the state.

“As Colorado is at risk from a longer wildfire season, we all need to do our part to reduce the threat of wildfires. Our innovative COSWAP workforce grants will fund important wildfire mitigation projects, develop the future mitigation and forestry workforce, and educate Coloradans on how to keep their homes and communities safer. I am grateful for all the crews, first responders, and organizations working to prepare and prevent wildfires and protect the future of Colorado,” said Governor Polis

The Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) is housed under DNR in coordination with the Colorado State Forest Service and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety. It includes a special collaboration with State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT) within the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA) to be deployed as hand crew teams to jump-start critical on-the-ground forest health and wildfire mitigation work throughout Colorado. Since its launch in 2021, COSWAP has funded 44 workforce development projects totaling $7.9 million. Of those, 16 are completed, and 28 are in progress this year.

“COSWAP has already made an incredible impact, and I am excited to see how this next $5 million round of the workforce development grant will continue to protect people, communities, and critical infrastructure in Colorado,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Thanks to the leadership of Governor Polis and bi-partisan support in the Colorado legislature, COSWAP is now a permanent program within DNR, and we will continue making strategic wildfire mitigation investments to assist our forests and Coloradans with the ongoing threat of wildfires.”

The 2023 COSWAP Workforce Development Grant offers four separate grants. All grants are available on all land ownership in Colorado. Organizations can apply for wildfire mitigation work completed by conservation corps, including independent and CYCA-accredited corps and the DOC SWIFT crews. Wildfire mitigation training grants are offered statewide for various purposes, including chainsaw and prescribed fire training, field-based advanced tree felling, and prescription development and treatment implementation training.

COSWAP was created after the devastating 2020 fire season by the Colorado legislature through SB21-258 sponsored by Senators Ginal and Rankin and Representatives Snyder and Froelich. Due to previous success, COSWAP is now a permanent state program that supports workforce development through partnerships with conservation corps and the Department of Corrections SWIFT crews performing wildfire mitigation and provides cash grants for wildfire mitigation training opportunities.

Conservation corps will be available for wildfire mitigation work in the Strategic Focus Areas identified in 2021 through SB21-258, which include Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, La Plata and Teller counties, and Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative focal areas. DOC SWIFT crews are operating out of the Four Mile Correctional Facility in Canon City and will be available within a 3-hour drive. Wildfire mitigation training grants are available statewide.

DNR is grateful for the partnership with CYCA, as the statewide organization has a dual focus of workforce development and wildfire mitigation. CYCA embodies the core values of providing youth and veterans education and career training opportunities.

“This partnership represents the best of the Colorado spirit, putting young people to work while protecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of Coloradans,” said Scott Segerstrom, Executive Director, Colorado Youth Corp Association. “This investment from DNR will help build the next generation of wildland firefighters, grow our outdoor recreation economy, and respond to the existential threat of climate change.  Young people serving in their local communities for the benefit of all is something for which every Coloradan can be proud.”

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