Rick Hernandez (right) with Adam Moore, district forester of CSFS Alamosa District.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Colorado State Forest Service recognized several partners at the agency’s annual meeting and awards ceremony held last week in Glenwood Springs.

  • Rick Hernandez – Partner of the Year
  • Rose Banzhaf – Special Recognition
  • Jean Blaisdell & Ridgewood Community – Special Recognition
  • Paul Branson – Special Recognition
  • Schelly Olson – Special Recognition
  • Jeff Stark – Volunteer of the Year

Partner of the Year

This award is presented to only one CSFS partner, cooperator or individual each year for exceptional support of, or assistance to, the agency.

Rick Hernandez – Hinsdale County deputy emergency manager

Hernandez was recognized for his role as the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) Coordinator for the county. He has provided CWPP and other assistance and support to three CSFS districts – Alamosa, Salida and Durango – and to the West Region Wildfire Council. Although Hinsdale County is located exclusively in the Salida District based on political boundaries, Hernandez serves the other districts because of overlapping communities, fire protection districts and watersheds.

Some of Hernandez’s specific accomplishments include working with multiple communities in the upper Rio Grande region, Lake City area and southern Hinsdale County; assisting in defensible space workshops for homeowners; marking fuelbreak boundaries for treatments and home-specific defensible spaces; and acting as a conduit between Hinsdale County fire departments and CSFS districts.

“Rick exhibits professionalism and excellence in communication and outreach, including in his assistance on defensible space workshops and in helping organize public wildfire education events,” said Adam Moore of the Alamosa District, who took a lead role in nominating Hernandez. “He works tirelessly to educate homeowners associations and landowners on defensible space, and has even helped lay out cross-boundary fuelbreak projects with the U.S. Forest Service.”

External Partner Special Recognition

This award is presented to CSFS partners for their significant contributions to the agency’s efforts and mission.

Rose Banzhaf –  Outdoor education volunteer in Teller County

Banzhaf received an award for her efforts with the CSFS-administered Colorado Project Learning Tree Program. In the four years Banzhaf has been involved with PLT, she has facilitated or co-facilitated at least 21 Colorado PLT workshops. She also has assisted with and presented at annual Fire Ecology Institutes, facilitator trainings, and statewide and regional environmental education conferences. She is a member of the Colorado PLT advisory group, representing the group at various meetings and mentoring other facilitators.

“Rose leads by example, and delights in sharing her passion for nature with her children, grandchildren and friends,” said Shawna Crocker, Colorado PLT coordinator. “I can’t imagine Colorado PLT without her.”

Jean Blaisdell & the Ridgewood Firewise Community/USA®

The community became a National Fire Protection Association-recognized community in 2010 and the first FWC in Teller County. Its wildfire mitigation efforts over the last eight years have vastly grown and now the majority of the Ridgewood subdivision is dedicated to participating in annual, collective efforts that reduce the community’s wildfire risk – leading to approximately 200 acres now mitigated within the community. Ridgewood also updated its existing Community Wildfire Protection Plan in November 2015.

“Ridgewood is a community of neighbors helping neighbors, creating connections and networks to help them become more fire-adapted and resilient for when a wildfire does occur within the community,” said Dave Root, CSFS Woodland Park District.

Paul Branson – La Veta Fire Protection District volunteer firefighter

Branson serves as the district’s wildfire mitigation coordinator and as a volunteer firefighter. He began researching and laying the groundwork for a dedicated hand-felling crew to perform defensible space work in 2013, and last year his crew performed defensible space and fuels reduction work on more than 30 individual properties. Following his blueprint, a similar mitigation service in Las Animas County has since been created and began work in 2015.

“Paul and I often speak at the same community meetings. His emphasis on preparedness and evacuation planning through the Ready-Set-Go and Code Red programs fits seamlessly with the CSFS messages of proper forest management to promote hazardous fuels reduction and forest health and resiliency,” said Mark Loveall, district forester for the CSFS La Veta District.

Schelly Olson – Grand Fire Protection District assistant chief, administration/public education

Olson has actively promoted wildfire mitigation and preparedness and promoted the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, Firewise Communities USA and active forest management to reduce vegetative fuel hazards in Grand County. She has a strong background in fire management, having been a full-time member of the Grand Fire Protection District since 2011, and prior to joining the district, she was a volunteer firefighter/EMT in Grand Lake and worked at Grand County EMS and Granby Medical Center.

“In Grand County, if you need any information whatsoever regarding wildfire in the urban interface, Schelly Olson is a go-to resource,” said Ron Cousineau, district forester for the CSFS Granby District.

Volunteer of the Year

This award is presented to only one CSFS volunteer statewide each year, for contributing toward the agency’s strategic priorities through hours worked, quality of service, initiative and professionalism.

Jeff Stark, Fort Collins resident and Colorado State University alum

Stark, who has a forestry degree from CSU and in the past has been a wildland firefighter, has been volunteering for the CSFS since 2013, helping with outreach and forest management efforts. His technical skills with tools and equipment and his forestry expertise make him a standout among CSFS volunteers, describing how he rebuilt the interior PVC framework of a well-used “puppet tree” that is a favorite prop for teaching children about the importance of trees.

“Jeff is a skilled sawyer and helps with many of our forest health projects,” said Nancy Dadisman, volunteer coordinator for the CSFS. “His knowledge about forestry and his ability to explain management concepts to the public makes him a real asset at Scout Days, the National Western Stock Show and other outreach events.”