Forest Service seeks input on 2024 fuel reduction project north of Hayden |

Forest Service seeks input on 2024 fuel reduction project north of Hayden

$3.4 million will go toward other wildfire management projects in Routt County and beyond

This map, included in the Bears Ears Fuel Reduction Project overview, shows what sections of the Routt National Forest are labeled Fire Regime Condition Class I (green), II (yellow), or III (red), a measurement of how far the area is departed from a natural fire regime. A natural fire regime is what existed before modern human intervention, but including aboriginal burning. Prescribed burns and mechanical treatment would help restore the area and limit wildfire risk while other works would improve the surrounding ecosystem.
U.S. Forest ServiceCourtesy photo

Routt National Forest is seeking public comment on a restoration project north of Hayden in the Bears Ears area.

The work will reduce fuel for fires and enhance the ecosystem on about 57,000 acres through prescribed burns, mechanical treatment and other efforts.

The proposed project would see crews using chainsaws to cut and collect excess undergrowth and eliminate small circumference trees along trails, roads and the forest boundary. 

“What we’re looking at is just enough of a fuel break between the private land and the forest so that if a fire starts on private (land) and comes onto forest, it possibly gives the firefighters a chance to maybe stop it there,” said Kevin Thompson, the south zone fire management officer for Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. “Or vice versa, if it starts on forest service, it’s something we can get back to, to utilize as an area that’s a little safer and easier to put control lines in if needed on a fire.”

Additionally, about 27,000 acres will undergo prescribed burning via helicopters, drones or on-the-ground crews, according to Thompson. 

The Forest Service wants to reintroduce fire at a rate at which it did naturally at one point in time, known as a fire return interval. A fire return interval is the amount of time between fires in a specific region during a natural fire regime. A natural fire regime is what existed before modern human intervention, but including aboriginal burning. Some areas in the Bears Ears area are in need of fire, being labeled as Fire Regime Condition Class III, or being far removed from the natural fire regime, with a high risk of loss of key ecosystem components. Under a Class III label, fire behavior would be severe.

So, introducing fire would bring the area back to a more historically natural state.

“That area is kind of a unique part of the Routt (National Forest) as it wasn’t hit by the mountain pine beetle like the majority of the other parts of our forest. Right now it’s in a very good place,” Thompson said. “We’re targeting that because we want to keep it that way. We want to reintroduce the fire return intervals and bring fire in there like it was prior to suppression and manage that landscape and have a better chance at keeping it the way that it is.”

Crews will just put fire on specific areas, allowing spring snow to keep the burns at bay.

“When we focus on the south and southwest and west aspects, we’re going to have snow hanging on the north and the east aspects,” Thompson said. “That’s how we’re really limiting our fire behavior and creating those natural barriers. We’re basically going to have the fire run into the snowbanks.”

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There will also be projects focusing on restoring the easily erodible soil in the California Park area. There will be Wet Meadow restoration along about 66 miles of ephemeral and intermittent streams, as well as riparian habitat improvements along Elkhead Creek.  

Among other improvements, if this project is approved as is, there would be a seasonal closure implemented within the California Park Special Interest Area from May 15 to June 30 to benefit sage-grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, Greater sandhill cranes, elk and more. 

People can comment on the project through about May 20 and a final decision on what the project will look like should come in the late summer or fall. Work could begin as early as next spring and could continue in the fall, conditions permitting. 

To comment on the project or learn more, visit

The Bears Ears project will be partially funded by the nearly $47 million that the Rocky Mountain Region was given for fuel reduction projects as part of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy implementation. About $38 million is going to forests in Colorado. 

“This funding is an important step toward preventing wildfires, improving the health of our forests, and the working conditions of firefighters, and I am proud that the investments I fought to secure will go directly to Routt National Forest. It is critical that we continue to invest in wildfire mitigation and prevention efforts, and I am grateful to the U.S. Forest Service for their work,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland will get about $3.4 million of the funds made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Law.

Other forests in the region getting funds include Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, San Juan National Forest, and the Black Hills National Forest. 

Routt National Forest is utilizing some of the money in fiscal year 2023, for five projects: the Banjo Salvage Timber Sale in Jackson County, north Routt County fuels treatment, the Walton Peak heritage survey, south Routt County fuels reduction as well as the Bears Ears surveys for hydrology, soils, wildlife and heritage, according to Aaron Voos, U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist. 

There is also funding set aside for four other Forest-wide projects with specific sites being decided later in the year should the project be implemented this year. Additional projects are being proposed for future years.

“Welcome news that $38 million in wildfire prevention funding is coming to Colorado,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond in a news release. “In recent years Routt National Forest has suffered through drought, beetle infestations and wildfires. These stressors along with outdated management practices have left our forests vulnerable to massive high-intensity fires. The five projects scheduled for the Routt National Forest in 2023 are a good beginning. Routt County is supportive of the coordinated effort between Federal, State, and local partners. This partnership along with the funding set aside for four forest-wide projects will allow the protection of our watershed and forest health.”

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