Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two wildfire-related bills Tuesday during a brief visit to Durango.
Hickenlooper signed the bills outdoors at the Colorado National Guard Armory in Bodo Industrial Park. A crowd of firefighting officials joined state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, and other local residents.
“Gather ’round,” Hickenlooper said before signing the bills. “We’re going to make some laws here.”
Both bills were introduced in the Senate by Roberts. The Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Program provides $1 million for organizations such as FireWise to mitigate wildfire risk by cutting brush back from residences.
The second bill, the Veterans Fire Corps Act, supports a Southwest Conservation Corps program that employs military veterans to conduct wildfire mitigation and fight wildfires. The legislation provides no direct funding, but it allows the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to train, equip and supervise the veterans crews.
“These are bills that are very close to my heart,” said Roberts. Brown carried the mitigation bill in the House.
Mitigation makes it easier to fight wildfires that approach homes, said Dan Noonan, chief of the Durango Fire Protection District.
“We’re not going to stop fire,” he said. “We have to learn to live with it.”
Funding for wildfire mitigation fell from $10 million to only $1 million in the new bill. Brown said it was a matter of competing priorities. “There just wasn’t enough money to go around,” she said.
For the veterans bill, Roberts said it enables veterans to transition into a civilian career.
“We want to move them, for those who are interested, into firefighting,” she said. “It opens up career opportunities in the Forest Service or other firefighting agencies.”
The bill signing was Hickenlooper’s only stop in Durango. He was scheduled to tour Barz Decorative Hardware in Silverton before attending events in Montrose later Tuesday.