Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary

 

WGA Goal - Reduce Hazardous Fuels


Actions to meet goal

  • Reduce acres at risk
  • Ensure communities most at risk receive priority
  • Expand and improve integration of hazardous fuels management program
  • Incorporate public health and environmental quality considerations in fire management activities
  • Develop smoke management plans in conjunction with prescribed fire planning
  • Address fire-prone ecosystem problems
  • Maintain areas improved by fuels treatment
  • Conduct and utilize research to support the reduction of hazardous fuels in WUI communities
  • Factor in local environmental conditions during fuels treatment planning

Wildfire Hazard Identification and Mitigation System

In 1991 the Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group formed a technical team to begin development of a hazard rating system to identify and rate areas of Boulder County for their relative wildfire hazard. By 1992 this had evolved into the geographic information system (GIS) Wildfire Hazard Identification and Mitigation System (WHIMS). WHIMS identifies local wildfire hazards and assesses the risks to communities. It is used to assist land managers and planners in making appropriate decisions about land management and development in fire prone areas, to assist local fire protection districts in pre-attack planning, to assist local emergency management and disaster relief agencies with disaster assessment and emergency response, and to educate and motivate homeowners and private landowners to increase community involvement with wildfire awareness and preparation.

 

City of Boulder Wildland Fire Mitigation Program

The City of Boulder oversees 50,000 acres of various lands including open space, mountain parks and all city owned properties. Consequently the city has a wildland fire mitigation crew to reduce hazardous fuels on these properties. The crew consists of a crew boss plus 4-5 members. They undertake mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. On average, they will burn 100 acres in forested areas, 200-300 acres in grassland and 100 acres of mechanical treatment per year. When doing prescribed burning, they notify the public via the newspaper first and then will follow up with neighborhood meetings and open houses. A week before the actual burn, they will distribute leaflets to each house in the burn area, letting residents know about the approximate date of the planned burn.

 

Boulder County Parks and Open Space

Boulder County Parks and Open Space manages 80,000 acres of land in the county, including 20,000-forested acres and some 60,000 acres in grasslands. Boulder Open Space began its prescribed burning program in the mid 1990s and has used fire as one of their main hazardous fuel reduction tools. On average, they mechanically treat 80-120 acres and burn 100-250 acres per year. They treat their high priority areas that are most accessible, close to subdivision or homes, have high wildlife habitat value or are in watersheds. They have three foresters and use volunteer crews, the sheriff's office and jail crews. AmeriCorps also helps in the summer. They also contract out some work and receive about $75,000-100,000 a year from Boulder County to assist in contracting out. Burning is getting tougher in the area due to air quality issues, so increasingly they have to chip more, which also is creating problems. One of the biggest challenges is to find something to do with the slash.

 

Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS)

The communities at greatest risk in Boulder County are Pinebrook Hills, Boulder Heights and Carriage Hills, based on topography, housing density, water available, and access. The bulk of hazardous fuels reduction takes place on private lands and so CSFS leans toward individual defensible space treatments to address this threat. In addition to the communities where they are focusing their defensible space work, they are also engaged in the Winiger Ridge landscape project, which has been on-going since 1998.

Money for hazardous fuel reduction comes from three pools-the wildland urban interface pool (private property defensible space), the competitive grants (private property defensible space, fuel breaks, chipping and slash disposal) and the Forest Land Enhancement Program (private property defensible space). In FY 2001 Allen Owen, CSFS District Forester, acquired $376,000 in National Fire Plan money to work on hazardous fuel reduction. In FY 2002 he acquired $521,000. The National Fire Plan money has been helping fund full time mitigation crews in three different fire protection districts (City of Boulder, Cherryvale Fire and Boulder Mountain Fire). Some money also goes to slash disposal sites and a chipping cost share program. In 2003, some money went to fund pre-planning for wildfire hazard assessments through the Student Conservation Association. This is a program that does individual home assessments throughout the county. Keeping up with demand for defensible space and fuel breaks has been a challenge. In 2002, CSFS had $900,000 in requests and were able to fund $400,000. In 2003, they had $939,000 in requests and were able to fund $502,000. In 2003, CSFS also treated 128 acres with $15,000 worth of FLEP money.

CSFS in Boulder County tries to take a dual approach. Fragmented homeownership patterns mean they need to work with individual property owners, while also trying to address the landscape level challenges. CSFS works with USFS to coordinate their work at more of a landscape and individual level. The Winiger Ridge (40,000 acres), Sugarloaf (23,000 acres) and James Creek (40,000) projects are examples of this landscape approach. As the USFS is doing Environmental Assessments, CSFS identifies the communities that fall within those landscapes to coordinate treatment and work across the public-private property boundaries. Landscape level treatment means they still have to meet with people one-on-one. According to CSFS employees, "We meet with the community as a whole and try to educate, but when we go to mark trees on the ground and do a layout… it's one-on-one."

 

Winiger Ridge Ecosystem Management Project

An important project for hazardous fuel reduction in Boulder County has been the Winiger Ridge Ecosystem Management Project. Winiger Ridge is a collaborative effort designed to manage natural resources across boundaries on a landscape-scale in southern Boulder County. The 40,000-acre landscape of the Winiger Ridge project is dominated by rich ecosystems of ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, mixed conifer, aspen, mountain meadows, wetlands, and riparian areas. The partners include: USFS, CSFS, Boulder County, City of Boulder, Denver Water, Eldorado Canyon State Park, local fire protection districts, and private landowners. Their motto is "Stewardship Across Boundaries."

The Winiger Ridge landscape was chosen due to its land ownership mix, an active community group, and a range of forest types and conditions. The land ownership mix is 29% private, 25% federal, 22% city, 14% county, 2% state, and 8% other (such as Denver Water Board). Approximately 2,500 full time residents inhabit the region with an additional 4 million recreationists annually visiting the area. The watersheds provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of metro-Denver area residents.

Reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire at the landscape scale is implemented by strategically placing the treatment units across the landscape with the consideration of other agencies' treatments. Of the almost 40,000 project acres, USFS analyzed 9,500 acres of national forest lands. Of the acres analyzed, 2,475 were cleared for treatment by the USFS. Within the 2,475 acres, 1,800 acres were planned to be mechanically thinned with the remaining 600-700 acres prescribed burned. An additional 2,000 acres were planned to be treated by other participating agencies. NEPA work was completed in July 2000 when the Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact were signed. Project work began on partnership lands in 1997 and on USFS lands in 1999. Winiger Ridge will be completed in 2007, when the last piles will be burned and the roads will be slashed over. Most of the major work is completed now.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are key components of the project. The local monitoring team for the Winiger Ridge project includes USFS and CSFS personnel, Rocky Smith of Colorado WILD, Pete Morton of the Wilderness Society and Scott Reuman of Preserve Upper Magnolia Association (PUMA) a local homeowner's association. The four components monitored are the biologic, economic, social and administrative aspects of the project. As of 2004, over 28 field tours have been conducted.

From the outset of the Winiger Ridge Project, information and education has been a significant component of the cooperative effort. Numerous tools have been used to keep cooperators, publics and stakeholders informed, including a yearly newsletter, informational workshops and tours, informational kiosks, projects signs, self-guided tours, information and demonstration fairs, information packets for landowners, news releases, and an interactive and informational web site. A project newsletter gets mailed to everyone in the Winiger Ridge landscape-approximately 2,600 people and the information kiosk is updated 2 or 3 times a year.

Several tools and participants contribute to hazardous fuel reduction on the Winiger Ridge project. Federal contracts, stewardship contracts, cooperative and Good Neighbor agreements between the USFS and CSFS, fire crews, forest service employees and CSFS all contribute to accomplishing the goals for Winiger Ridge. These tools and participants have been necessary to deal with the various situations in which hazardous fuel reduction projects occur.

Cooperative agreements between the USFS and CSFS have been one tool to facilitate treatment. The fragmentation of land ownership has necessitated getting access to adjacent National Forest lands through the use of Rights-of-Ways across private roads. CSFS has been instrumental in contacting local landowners, and working out cooperative agreements with the USFS and "access agreements" with local landowners to allow limited use of private roads for removal of products such as firewood, or for crews to drive and park along their road for access to the treatment unit. 366 acres were treated through two cooperative agreements between the USFS and CSFS.

As of January 2004, the USFS has treated, or has in contract, 1,556 acres for treatment. The USFS has contracted out all four of the stewardship contracts. The mechanical thinning costs between $400-$800 per acre. Estimated total cost to implement the USFS portion of the project is $2,150,000, with a timeframe of 3-6 years, from 2002 to 2005/2008. $1.8 million has been spent to date, which includes almost $1 million for the planning and NEPA that came from special funding because it is a stewardship pilot project. The funding for 2001, 2002 and 2003, for the USFS portion of the project, has come from the NFP.

In addition to the work completed or in progress by the USFS, other agency partners began treatment work in 1997 and have completed treatments on 829 acres in the Winiger Ridge project area. The treatments by all agencies have made a difference. During the 2000 Walker Ranch fire, firefighters used Winiger Ridge project treated forest area to protect homes. The Walker Ranch/Eldorado fire charred 1,062 acres of primarily county open space just west of the city and could have been a lot worse without the forest thinning that had been completed. "During that fire a lot of areas we thinned really saved the day," said Randy Coombs, senior resource specialist for Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department.

Sugarloaf Fuel Reduction Project

The next landscape level project for Boulder County is the Sugarloaf Fuel Reduction Project. The project area contains approximately 25,000 acres of public and private land. Of this amount, approximately 14,000 acres is in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and 11,000 acres are privately owned or managed by the city or county of Boulder. The primary objective of the project is to reduce the risk of crown fire initiation and spread by thinning forest and reducing the amount of surface fuels and ladder fuels necessary for ground fire to reach the tops of trees. In January 2004, the Sugarloaf EA comment period closed. The Sugarloaf Fuel Reduction Project Decision Notice was signed on January 30, 2004. No appeals were filed. This decision will apply mechanical vegetation treatments to approximately 4,234 acres, prescribed fire on approximately 569 acres and a combination of thinning and prescribed fire on another 172 acres. It is expected to take between 3 and 5 years to complete the entire project.


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Copyright©2004 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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