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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

Federal Projects

San Juan Public Land Center (SJPLC)

The SJPLC had prioritized needed work prior to the National Fire Plan and they realized that they needed additional staff to facilitate in hazardous fuels reduction. When the National Fire Plan passed, SJPLC was ready to hire to facilitate the work that needed to be done on the ground. As additional money started to come for fuels reduction, they had the person power to accomplish their goals. Currently, they need more people to oversee timber contracts and mechanical thinning work. Their track record on the forest is good, so the Region has been very supportive with financing. They have good working relationships with the Timber Management Authority and the Regional Fire Management Officer (FMO).

US Forest Service (USFS)

The USFS treats between 8-15,000 acres per year on the San Juan National Forest and are trying to accelerate treatment to 20-30,000 acres per year. Currently they treat about 90% of their fuel by burning and 10% through mechanical thinning. It will take approximately 30-50 years for the USFS to treat all the fuels in the WUI. BLM treats 4-5,000 acres per year and would like to treat 10,000 acres per year. It will take BLM 10-15 years to do all their WUI work.

In La Plata County, the USFS was able to treat 1,614 acres in FY2001, on three separate projects - Falls Creek (14 acres thinning), Saul's Creek (1,300 acres burning) and Raven Ridge (300 acres hydromowing). In FY 2002, USFS treated Logchute a 2,027 acre burning project. The Missionary Ridge fire curtailed additional action and resulted in 70,000 acres burned. In 2003, the USFS has implemented several projects in La Plata County. Log Chute 608 acres (burning), Falls Creek (40 acres thinning), Little Bear Creek 180 acres (thinning), Vallecito 200 acres (thinning) and the HD Mountains 923 acres (hydromowing).

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

BLM treated approximately 360-460 acres on two projects in FY 2001. Durango Hills was 60 acres of thinning and Grand View was 300-400 acres of hydromowing. In FY 2002 BLM treated 1,207 in the Mayhan (525 acres hydromowing), Forest Lakes (640 acres thinning) and Edgemont (33 acres thinning). In 2003 to date, BLM has implemented the 400-acre Pering Peak Project, which entails hydromowing and thinning. Additional projects planned for the BLM in 2003 include a 200-acre hydromowing and thinning project called Florida/Edgemont, 400 acres in Kernan Canyon, 400 acres in Stinking Spring, and 300 acres in Cash Canyon. Additional projects for the USFS include Electra Lake (2,246 acres thinning), Sawmill Canyon (3,126 acres burning), Deep Creek (650 acres burning), Hermosa (13,153 acres burning), Mitchell Lakes (1,616 acres burning) and Wickenson Mountain (896 acres burning).

Hydro-mower picture

 

NEPA Innovations

The USFS and BLM use a programmatic document, developed in the 1990s, for wildland fires. Basically, if lightning strikes, the fire is allowed to burn within established constraints and guidelines. This forestwide document has since been extended to prescribed burning to cover all issues related to prescribed burning and permits foregoing full NEPA work every time there is a prescribed burn. Threatened and endangered species and archeological NEPA processes still need to be completed, but the programmatic document covers everything else.

For mechanical thinning the BLM is using individual NEPA documents. These are individual documents, but fairly large in scope. BLM uses an umbrella Environmental Assessment (EA) to cover 2 - 3 years of work and projects. They will analyze 10 - 15,000 acres and approve it for mechanical treatment for up to 8 - 10 projects. These NEPA innovations allow the USFS and BLM to keep projects moving on the forest to reduce hazardous fuels.

 

Stewardship Contracting

The USFS San Juan National Forest is using stewardship contracting on two projects - 1) the Beavers Meadow Restoration Project in La Plata/Archuleta County; and 2) the Pine Zone Project (also known as the Ponderosa Pine Partnership) in Montezuma County. The Beavers Meadow Restoration Project is testing how to blend timber sales, hazardous fuels reduction, road closure, building fire lines and watershed protection all in one package. The Beaver Meadows Restoration Project is a service contract with an embedded timber sale. The timber sale involves the purchase and removal of the merchantable white fir and aspen. Much of the other activity normally part of the timber sale process (including tree cutting, slash treatment, erosion control on landings and skid trails) are treated as service items. The contract includes bid items for cutting trees, slash treatment and erosion control on each cutting unit; for construction of clearing fire lines and fuelbreaks for the anticipated prescribed burning, maintenance of the roads used by the project during the performance of the contract, decommissioning of some old roads and reconstruction of roads used for the projects.

Private Land

The main program addressing private land risk is the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Wildland Urban Interface Fuels Reduction Program. Dan Ochocki, CSFS Durango District Forester, has targeted subdivisions at risk because these areas give greater return on the money spent. Indian Camp Ranch is one site where they treated using the 50/50 homeowner match money. Los Ranchitos was another subdivision that was treated and the homeowners worked together. There has been major work with the public to identify areas of high risk on private land and coordinate these efforts with hazardous fuel reduction on adjoining public lands. CSFS Durango District treated 404 acres in the wildland interface in 2001 and 1,183 in 2002. Ochocki expects trends to continue upward in 2003, but CSFS HQ capped all district funding for this program at $50,000 to cover all of the five southwest counties.

picture of treated property

picture of untreated property

One problem with the homeowner match money has been delays in allocating the money in 2002. People who submitted their applications in September 2002, by March 2003 still had not heard if they are funded. This means that they are reluctant to do the work themselves because they don't know if they will receive funding.

Good Neighbor Agreements

Colorado is engaged in an innovative and unique approach to dealing with their cross-boundary wildfire issues: the Good Neighbor Agreements (GNA) between USFS and CSFS. Legislation passed in 2001 allows CSFS to act as an agent for the USFS on 200-foot buffers of USFS land that abuts private land. The agreement gives CSFS legal authority to treat public lands. In essence, CSFS solicits the contracts and administers them. The USFS pays CSFS who then pays the contractor. CSFS is prioritizing areas were private property owners are doing thinning, so they can create a seamless boundary on public and private land. Saul's Creek mechanical treatment is GNA 4 miles east of Bayfield bordering the Deer Valley subdivision. The focus for Good Neighbor Agreements is small projects that can be covered under a Categorical Exclusion. According to Dan Ochocki, CSFS, "One of the reasons that it is working so well is the respect, personalities and the trust that we have working with the partners down here". Tammy Tyner at Timber Tech has been the main contractor on these agreements due to the quality and high reliability of her work.

Polygon Classification System

To ensure the right areas receive priority within the county, the fire chiefs have undertaken an effort to move to the polygon classification system of land at risk from wildfire threat. This is a mapping process that helps prioritize areas for treatment. The fire chiefs played a big role in identifying areas that need treatment in the WUI. There are four classifications of polygons. A-polygons are areas where wildland fire is highly undesirable. A-polygons are often wildland urban interface or intermix communities or neighborhoods. Concentrated FIREWlSE and related preparedness education and hazard mitigation efforts will be directed to those areas. B polygons are areas where wildland fire is undesirable under current conditions. Fire prevention and suppression efforts will be aggressive in these areas. The potential for catastrophic fire is significant, appropriate fuels management programs may permit restoration of fire-adapted landscapes in which wildland fire is acceptable or desirable. C-polygons are areas where wildland fire is acceptable and often desirable. Prescribed fire might be used regularly to maintain fire-adapted conditions and achieve management objectives. D-polygons are areas where wildland fire is acceptable or desirable and where the potential for damage is insignificant. Prevention and fuels treatments will be relatively uncommon in these areas. The BLM regional office, under the direction of Ron Hodgson, is helping fund $25,000 for the Polygon project through the OCS.

 


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