Last week, the Herald concluded the “Our Forests” series, a four-month look at forest health and wildfire risk in Lake County. One reoccurring theme throughout the series was the importance of regional planning — a response to the fact that wildfire does not hold county lines.

Lake and Chaffee counties’ wildfire planning partnership is a fantastic example of how to work on problems with a regional lens.

Throughout 2021, Chaffee walked Lake through the wildfire protection planning process our southerly neighbor undertook in 2018, saving Lake time and resources. And thanks to Chaffee’s blueprint, our county government was able to disperse a survey to gauge community assets, create maps that reflect such priorities and add fresh information and graphics to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The idea behind Chaffee and Lake’s partnership — that a disaster in one county is a threat to the other — holds true for a variety of topics.

Drug addiction, for example, does not heed county lines. The State of Colorado understands this and recently endorsed a regional response to the state’s opioid crisis.

The majority of the $400 million opioid settlement recently awarded to Colorado, which includes payments from Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, McKinsey & Company and others, will be split between 19 regions across the state.

Lake County plans to join Region 5, which will likely include Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties. The counties will pool funds from the settlement, working to leverage existing behavioral health and treatment services in the region while building capacity for new ones.

Environmental pollution is a similar beast. Think of the release of hazardous substances into the Arkansas River from California Gulch — a century worth of pollution that affected the entire river basin, not only Lake County.

For this reason, the natural resource damages collected from the mining companies that worked in California Gulch are available to counties and collaboratives across the Arkansas River Basin. Lake County recently applied for project funding from the settlement, as did organizations working on environmental projects near Cottonwood Pass, Salida and Hayden Pass, to name a few.

The housing crisis in the High Rockies also highlights our regional interdependency.

Eagle, Summit and Chaffee counties have historically depended on Lake County to house much of their workforce, with about 70 percent of Lake County’s population commuting over county lines for work. But as housing prices continue to rise in Lake County, the bedroom community phenomenon is becoming less and less sustainable.

And though Lake County’s housing crisis is not only an issue for local residents, but a problem for nearby counties who depend on our workforce, we are yet to see a robust regional response to the affordable housing problem.

Regional planning is particularly important in rural areas, in remote regions where we share National Forest, hospitals, water, workforces and more. Such planning is also essential as it relates to politics. Rural counties must stand together as regional blocks to compete with the political power of Front Range communities.

Rachel Woolworth

Herald Editor

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