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Forest Service seeks input

Seeing the forest fire through the trees

Danie Harrelson

— It is possible to have too much of a good thing, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

The practice of fire suppression preserved public lands for years in the United States, which seemed to be a good thing for wilderness conservation.

But all those years of fire suppression fueled the demise of 7 million acres of public and private land in the summer of 2000.

In response, Congress approved a $1.8 billion National Fire Plan to address the dangerous accumulation of fuel loads on public lands in the United States.

The Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest received $400,000 of the funding to implement its own fuel reduction project.

U.S. Forest Service officials in the area are eager to begin removing the threat of future severe wildfires around Steamboat Springs, but they recognize the challenge that accompanies controlled burns on public lands that sit so close to urban areas.

Endangering homes in the process of trying to lessen the danger of future fires only defeats the Forest Service’s intent, Kent Foster, zone fire management officer with the Forest Service, said.

“We can’t just let the fire burn,” Foster said. “It doesn’t do any good to clear up the threat of future wildfires if we’re threatening homeowners at the same time.”

Forest Service representatives held an open house on Thursday evening to answer questions about their proposal to thin trees and other vegetation in areas of the Routt National Forest that sit near Steamboat Springs.

The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project involves land on the north side of the Steamboat Ski Area, down to Buffalo Pass and westward to Elk River Road all the way to Copper Ridge, as well as Morrison Creek near Stagecoach.

The Forest Service wants public input to determine how it can best reduce fuel accumulations on public lands while protecting communities.

People in and around Steamboat Springs must have some assurance that the Forest Service will take every precaution to ensure their safety, Foster said.

He said he and his colleagues are studying the best way to reduce the dangerous build-up of brush and trees in Routt National Forest.

Fuel reduction will likely be accomplished through a series of controlled burns but other options include mowing brush, thinning smaller trees and removing smaller trees and brush that grow among larger trees.

These techniques could begin as early as next spring but not without careful planning, Foster said. Weather and wind conditions are closely monitored to ensure a controlled burn does not get out of control, fuel specialist Mark Cahur said. Cahur said he studies every possible situation that might happen during controlled burns.

“We plan for the worst case scenario,” Foster said. “If we can’t guarantee that the fire will not get away from us, we don’t even think about starting it.”

Tomas Stone attended the open house to get some answers.

Stone, whose house sits about a fourth of a mile from the site of a proposed controlled burn, said he is concerned about the safety of residents whose houses also sit close to national forest land.

Lessening the visual impact of controlled burning might go a long way with homeowners who are still skeptical about the risks of starting fires near their property, he added. He explained that people whose backyards face the site of a controlled burn would have to live with it until the area returns to normal, Stone said. This could foster some tension that could be avoided with a little more education and understanding, he said.

“But the Forest Service has an opportunity here to show that controlled burning can be done in a manner that is not threatening and benefits both the private land owner and the public land,”

Stone said.


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