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Watersheds and Wildfires

Jonathan Bruno is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

Jonathan Bruno

Jonathan Bruno is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

I grew up in a home overlooking the North Branch of the Winooski River in central Vermont. Each spring, as the winter snow melted and the temperatures climbed, my brother and I would wait anxiously for our father to announce that it was time to “move some rocks,” which to me meant swimming. As we’d splash in the clear waters, my father would spend hours clearing the boulders that had filled his swimming hole during the spring floods. As a kid, “moving rocks” was part of summer. As I grew older, I came to see dad’s underwater rock wrestling matches as a reminder that the river I loved as a boy is part of the global system that we interact with every day.

For more than a decade, I have worked in natural resource protection through the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP). With 27 staff and 6,500 annual volunteers, we work to balance the diverse needs and interests of Coloradans, serving more than 75% of our state’s residents by protecting our 2,600-square-mile watershed located in Colorado’s central Front Range. With mounting research demonstrating the global impacts of local wildfires, watershed protection demands a multimodal action approach, including fire prevention. Proper land management saves lives, money, and resources.

Two recent fires alone – Waldo Canyon in 2012 and Black Forest in 2013 – resulted in over $750 million dollars in insurance claims and greatly harmed the surrounding natural environment. These and other devastating Colorado wildfires spurred the creation of the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force, which was designed to make recommendations aimed at lessening the impacts from fire, especially in wildland-urban interfaces (WUI), the zones of transition between unoccupied land and human development. The recommendations included an assessment of where to build and how to build so that our communities won’t be put in harm’s way. We must ensure that homeowners understand that living and building in the WUI, or deep in the forest, means that their homes could become tinderboxes when fire encroaches. While I still believe that the burden for action and property protection ultimately falls on the homeowner, the responsibility to take action falls upon everyone, and we must all be willing to take accountability and ownership over our communities.

Everyone is impacted by the way our natural resources are used, as well as how they are protected. From the river I swam in as a young boy in Vermont to the watershed I now work to enhance, protection of these resources starts with the local community. That includes property owners, local officials, land managers, and people like me who want to ensure safe and healthy communities. Wildfire issues, as well as many other environmental and societal challenges, are far too large to be solved by a single individual, office, or agency. We must be willing to accept that global problems are problems for all of us, and that solutions are possible when – and only when – we address these issues together.

Jonathan Bruno is the Chief Operating Officer for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a non-profit whose mission is to protect the water quality and ecologic health of the Upper South Platte Watershed.