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Kopp, Gerou roll out wildfire legislation

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By AJ Vicens

State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, and state Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Genesee, hope to pick up where Kopp and former state Rep. Rob Witwer left off in their 2008 work on wildfire legislation.

The duo are teaming up to push a series of bills aimed at reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire in areas where urbanization and wild lands meet.

"Wildfire is unavoidable," Kopp said Jan. 15 at the state Capitol, standing with fire chiefs from Evergreen and Indian Hills. "But catastrophic wildfire in wildland/urban interface areas is avoidable where fuels have been properly mitigated at the community, neighborhood and home-defensible-space level."

Kopp, a former mountain firefighter, has worked on this issue since before the 2008 legislative session. Last year, he and Witwer proposed several bills with limited success, with most resistance coming by way of lack of funding. After Cherou was elected to replace Witwer in November, the two have teamed up to carry on the fight.

"It's not a secret that the wildfire challenges we face in this state are certifiably larger by several orders of magnitude than the financial measures we can bring to address them," Kopp added.

Kopp is pushing bills that would require the state to spend the limited wildfire mitigation funds it has on areas in a prioritized way, not on political whims. Another bill would ease financial burdens on volunteer firefighters by giving them tax credits and rebates when buying equipment, and a third bill would create incentives for private companies to clear away rotted wood and turn a profit.

Gerou is also running three bills. One would put volunteer rescuers in the same category as ambulance companies and doctors when it comes to seeking reimbursement for service. Another would force cities like Denver, which own land in other counties, to enter into agreements to mitigate the wildfire risk on its land.

"The problem, is if we don't all work together with stuff like that, it makes everybody's job that much harder," Gerou said.

A third bill would seek funds to train volunteer firefighters and expand education about risks in areas where development and forests mix. Gerou said the estimated $13,000 needed for the additional training isn't there yet.

"That's one we're trying to find funds for," Gerou said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.