12:04pm

Tue July 3, 2012
Wildfires

Tax Breaks, Grant Money Available For Colorado Wildfire Mitigation

With tens of thousands of acres aflame in Colorado, many mountain home and property owners are madly working on fire mitigation – but may not know they can get both tax breaks and grant money to help.

State law provides a write-off on the Colorado tax return for 50 percent of wildfire mitigation costs, up to $2,500 annually, from 2009 through 2013.

The write-offs can be applied to “actual” out-of-pocket expenses, including hiring tree-cutting services and paying for chainsaws. So there’s little help for the thousands of landowners working up a sweat, personally hauling logs and branches off their own mountain properties to reduce fire danger. In other words, one’s own labor doesn’t count.

The law has received almost no publicity since it passed in 2008.

The work must be authorized by a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and the work must have been done after the local plan was approved. Colorado has 196 approved Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and they call for defensible space around many of the state’s houses in the areas where urban living meets the forest.

The law was sponsored by then-legislators Rob Witwer and Mike Kopp, who represented districts that included the mountainous Conifer/Evergreen communities southwest of Denver. Witwer said the bill passed despite the cost to the strapped state budget after he argued the entire state pays the bill when forests burn. For example, he noted, the 2002 Hayman Fire west of Colorado Springs has cost metro Denver residents tens of millions of dollars on their bills from Denver Water, for work the utility has done to deal with sediment from burned slopes ending up in reservoirs.

Landowners and homeowners associations can also apply for grants to assist their wildfire mitigation projects. Applications are available at the Colorado State Forest Service website [.pdf] and must be received by mail in by 4 p.m.on July 20.

Dan Gibbs, a former state senator from Breckenridge who sponsored the bill creating the grant program, said about 20 of the 25 applications this year received funding, with approvals generally going to areas with existing homes, not new developments.

“I would love to see 400” applications this year, said Gibbs, now a Summit County commissioner.