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

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Overview


La Plata County is home to 42,506 residents and La Plata location mapcovers 1.08 million acres. Some 2.7 million acres of public lands are in or abut La Plata County, including 1.8 million acres on the San Juan National Forest, 750,000 acres on BLM property and 156,000 acres in National Monuments. According to the US Bureau of Census, median home value is $183,900, with 11.8% seasonal homes. Annual median household income is $41,159. Approximately 60% of the land is owned publicly or by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Indian Tribes, with 40% owned privately. The population of La Plata County is growing at an average rate of 3% per year much of it in the wildland urban interface. From 1993 to 1999, 2,895 new lots were created through major and minor subdivisions. Since 1978, over 11,000 residential structures have been placed throughout the county.

Addressing the Threat

The main effort that coordinates the response to the wildfire threat in La Plata County is SW Colorado picture the La Plata County Fire Plan (LPCFP), laying out goals and nine recommendations on how to address their wildfire hazard. The development of the Plan was facilitated in 2002 by the Office of Community Services (OCS) at Fort Lewis State College in 2002 and funded by USFS Region 2 Economic Action Program.

The La Plata County Fire Plan

Counties in Colorado are required to prepare Fire Plans as part of a law passed by the legislature in 2000. The law emphasizes the need to manage wildfire in addition to promoting and suppressing wildfire. To encourage better management, the legislation authorizes counties to prepare and implement fire management plans that detail individual county policies on fire management for prescribed burns or natural ignition burns on lands owned by the state or county. The shift from prevention and suppression to management created a need for fire planning on non-federal lands within counties.

The La Plata County Fire Plan has five goals that guide its efforts in fire mitigation:
1) increase La Plata County's capacity to identify high risk areas and work to prevent catastrophic wildfire on those lands;
2) improve the effectiveness of fire prevention public education by taking current education efforts to personal, grassroots and neighborhood levels;
3) decrease fire risk in the urban interface by implementing key projects identified in the CFP planning process;
4) increase the number of homeowners implementing FIREWISE strategies[hotlink];
continue to support the myriad partnerships between communities and local, state and federal agencies to lessen the chances of catastrophic wildfire in La Plata County. La Planta FIre Plan

The Missionary Ridge Fire

Ten days after the LPCF Plan was released, the Missionary Ridge Fire Complex occurred. The fire ran from June 9 to July 15, 2002, burning 70,000 acres over 37 days and resulted in the loss of 54 structures at a total cost of $40 million dollars. Approximately 2,300 homes/families were evacuated during the course of the fire. The Valley fire happened concurrently. It burned 400 acres in two hours and came within two miles of Missionary Ridge. Homeowners and community residents, on the other hand, have been more interested in taking action to protect their homes since the fires.

 

 
 

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5 SW counties mapLa Plata County is one of five counties in southwest Colorado addressing their wildfire risk. Planning efforts have been coordinated by a small group of people with clear synergies among the five counties. This report focuses on La Plata County, while also mentioning some of the efforts in Archuleta, San Juan, Montezuma and Dolores counties.

 

 
 

The Office of Community Service

The Office of Community Service (OCS) at Fort Lewis College is a unique participant in La Plata County's response to wildfire. OCS directs its resources towards projects based on social, cultural and economic inclusiveness, participatory democracy, community ownership and capacity building. The USFS and BLM have used OCS to assist in the development of forest plans and other projects. OCS began working with the USFS and BLM in 1993. According to Thurmann Wilson, San Jaun Public Lands Center (SJPLC) Public Affairs, OCS focused explicitly on "capacity building in both the community and the agencies…to build a lot of skills amongst community members and ourselves". This ten-year effort has provided dividends in the fire mitigation arena since agencies and individuals are eager to work collaboratively to reach their goals and have developed the skill base to achieve the goals. "The capacity [to get things done in La Plata County] comes from the relationships that have formed with county government and municipalities and all kinds of organizations in the area," according to Sam Burns, OCS.

 

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Other Key Participants

The San Juan Public Lands is the USFS and BLM merged together to give "Service-First" to the public. This innovative cooperation between the federal agencies to provide seamless management of public lands has been key to successes in southwestern Colorado. Another unique participant in La Plata County efforts is the San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA), a non-profit foundation that supports education and outreach. SJMA has been instrumental in funding several educational efforts as part of the La Plata County Fire Plan.

 

Organizing a Community Effort

Interaction among the various participants coordinating the La Plata County Fire Plan is best described as informal. There is no formal organization that brings them together on a regular basis. Rather,the group is characterized as a loose network of people interested in doing different aspects of wildfire mitigation. Subsets of this network come together in ad-hoc ways to accomplish certain goals and then disband. For instance, there is the Potsie's Agenda Group. This group continues to meet at a local restaurant, called Potsie's, to discuss how to keep the implementation of the La Plata County Fire Plan moving. This group consists primarily of CSFS District Forester Dan Ochocki, San Juan Public Lands Center's Allen Farnsworth, Durango Fire Rescue Authority's Assistant Fire Chief Allan Clay and OCS Contractor Marsha Porter-Norton.

 


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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University