Forest Resiliency Project Near Beulah Designed to Slow Wildfire Spread

A before and after photo of the roadside on the 12 mile project.

May 2015 before and after photos of the project along Hwy 78. Thinning a forest along a roadside provides many advantages to wildfire managers. The slash was piled and burned in December 2015. Photos: San Carlos Ranger District

Please see the project update below

The 12-mile Fuels Reduction Project, located along Hwy 78 between Beulah and San Isabel in Pueblo and Custer Counties, Colorado has been in development since 2009 when the district began planning for the project. With the target of treating approximately 1000 acres, a final decision was published in 2014 and summer crews began work before leaving for the winter. In April 2015, district crews began utilizing an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps crew to help drastically thin the forest by cutting small diameter trees known as “ladder fuels.” The larger wood material is available for the public to obtain permits to collect and use as firewood. The smaller diameter branches and materials were piled into large slash piles and burned during the winter months when adequate snow cover was on the ground.

“By thinning along the roadside we have given fire managers a strategic location to launch an attack on a fast moving or intense wildfire,” said District Fire Management Officer, Dennis Page. Since it is not realistic, or possible, to attempt to treat the entire forest, the district concentrates on strategic areas such as Highway 78 above the South Creek and St. Charles Creek Canyons. The rough landscapes on the east side of the Wet Mountains pose a high likelihood of a wildfire getting established and having a high probability of running out of the canyon before being detected or suppressed. To have a fuel break at an accessible location could have significant benefits, in the event that scenario were to occur.

Committed to Our Neighbors

“Projects like this one demonstrate the San Carlos Ranger District’s commitment to reducing the wildfire hazards around our neighboring communities,” said Paul Crespin, the San Carlos District Ranger. “We encourage our neighbors to consider applying the same tactics on their private lands.” One large property owner along the highway has already conducted a significant amount of similar treatments. Crespin noted that an increased awareness of the overstocked forests on private lands is beginning to result in  more large scale treatments across the ownership boundaries. “These treatments will be beneficial to all parties that have a stake in creating a more resilient forest that provides many resources to our communities, including clean and abundant water,” said Crespin.

When a large fire occurs in that area, the fuel break will serve to provide:

  • Safer egress for residents along the Hwy 78
  • A safer location from which to ignite backfires designed to starve an oncoming fire of consumable vegetation
  • An “anchor-point” where firefighters can safely begin an aggressive attack

In the past decade, Colorado has experienced an unprecedented number of “catastrophic” wildfires. State and federal fire mangers are attributing the increase in large wildfire activity to several factors including climate change, increased fuel loading on the wildlands and the increasing proximity of homes and significant other values to undeveloped areas commonly referred to as the wildland-urban interface. When all these elements are combined with hot, dry and windy weather, the results have the potential to be disastrous. Nationally, numerous examples exist of large wildfires that have raced toward communities and where treatments similar to the 12-mile fuels reduction project, have proven to effectively thwart the fire’s chances of raging through the community.
 

Photo of two people loading a log on a trailerAn additional benefit to the community is the easy collection of firewood generated from the project. For information on the San Carlos Ranger District’s fuelwood program click here

The AmeriCorps Partnership

The SCRD has hosted teams from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) for the past nine years and benefited from thousands of hours of work by those crews. AmeriCorps NCCC is a team-based program in which 18- to 24-year-olds do several community service projects throughout the country while developing leadership and professional skills. Teams can work in a variety of different project areas, including education, housing, the environment, and disaster response. Each year NCCC trains a few specially selected teams to focus on fire management for half of their 10-month service term. The district is hosting an AmeriCorps crew again this year.

What the Public Can Expect to See Next

The SCRD currently plans to have a contractor work on Forest Service lands in the area of the Boy Scout Camp near San Isabel within the next year. Additional work will continue along Highway 78 in the future from the east boundary of the forest, near Beulah, to Highway 165. Future projects are funding dependent with work expected to continue for several more years. Treatments are intended to be maintained and improved with prescribed fire.

Update: May 2017

Most of the slash piles along Hwy 78 generated by the SCRD and AmeriCorps crews were burned in December 2015. In addition, a contractor completed 230 acres of initial treatment near the San Isabel Boy Scout Ranch in August. This phase of the project generated and estimated 20,000 slash piles, some of which were burned in the winter of 2016/17. The next phase of the project will remove some of the larger trees along the corridor. Continuiing from there, the next stage of the project will, likely, involve a small-scale broadcast burn. Additional work on the project is expected to continue for the next few years.

Helpful Tips for Residents Living in Fire-prone Areas

Colorado State Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation site: http://csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation/

For information on how to protect your home from wildfires, visit the national Firewise website at http://www.firewise.org

Take your wildland fire preparedness to the next level by having a plan for evacuation when officials tell you it is time to go. Visit the Ready, Set, Go website at http://www.wildlandfirersg.org
 

In the image above, Karen Houston and Tom Meirick of Pueblo West take advantage of the easy-to-find logs to fill their firewood permits from the 12-mile project area. Photo: San Carlos Ranger District
 





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