Public input sought on proposal to reduce fuels hazard on 3,000 acres of North Routt forest | SteamboatToday.com

Public input sought on proposal to reduce fuels hazard on 3,000 acres of North Routt forest

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a fuels reduction project to mitigate wildfire risk across 3,000 acres in North Routt. Patches of dead lodgepole pines, pictured here in 2017, have since turned grey and are falling at increasing rates, posing an additional threat to residents and visitors on surrounding trails and roads.
File photo/Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public input on a proposed project to clear dead and hazardous trees on up to 3,000 acres in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, about 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs.

The goals of the North Routt Fuels Reduction Project would be to improve forest health and reduce the risk of larger, more intense wildfires, according to a statement from the federal agency released earlier in the month. In the long run, mitigation work like this also is supposed to reduce the cost of wildfire suppression by decreasing the amount of vegetation fueling the flames.

Much of the forest targeted for the fuels reduction project involves areas affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The portion of land officials want to target comprises a horseshoe around Steamboat Lake to the north, with a focus on protecting residential and recreational areas in the wildland-urban interface.  

The wildland-urban interface refers to the border between unoccupied forest and developed areas that have an increased risk of wildfires. The project would prioritize fuels reduction in the Forest Service land adjacent to about 500 to 600 homes, according to an online version of the proposal.

An informational meeting on the project will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the North Routt Fire Protection District station, north of Steamboat Lake. 

A map shows the 3,000 acres the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to treat under the North Routt Fuels Reduction Project.
Courtesy photo/United States Forest Service

Aaron Voos, a public affairs specialist with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, said the meeting is a way for the public to give feedback about which areas they would like to prioritize for fuels treatment and to offer suggestions about the type of treatments they believe to be most effective.

Forest Service officials could use a variety of methods to clear away dead and dry vegetation, including mastication and prescribed fires. Mastication is the use of machines to grind up dead and dying vegetation. These measures are meant to create defensible space and fuel breaks, as well as thin the forest.

similar project has been underway this month in the Mad Creek area north of Steamboat. Workers there also have been restoring the historic Mad Creek bridge and protecting it from erosion. Voos said it is part of a multi-year initiative to improve forest and habitat health near Steamboat Springs.

Since 1996, the mountain pine beetle has affected more than 3.4 million acres of forest across the state, according to the Colorado State Forest Service, rising to the level of an “epidemic” in 2007. In the last six years, studies have shown the epidemic has slowed, mostly because the beetles have eaten their way out of a food supply. 

But evidence of the epidemic remains in the scars of dead trees that now pose a risk of catching fire. 

If you go

What: Informational meeting on the proposed North Routt Fuels Reduction Project
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: North Routt Fire Station No. 2, 61915 Routt County Road 129

For questions or comments, contact U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Kevin Thompson at kevin.thompson@usda.gov or 970-638-4170.

In certain parts of the Routt National Forest around Steamboat Lake, the beetles killed up to 95% of the lodgepole pines, according to a report from the Forest Service. 

The dead trees are in what forest officials call the “ghosting phase,” when they have lost all of their needles and turn grey from shedding their bark. Trees in the ghosting phase are more likely to fall, according to Voos, which then pile up and turn the forest floor into a tinderbox. 

“When they fall, it builds up the fuel load on the ground, which then causes a hot, intense fire on the ground and scorches the soil,” he said.

Damage to the soil in turn leads to erosion problems and an overall slower and more troublesome recovery from wildfires, Voos added.

“This is a good time to go in and treat those trees in that (ghosting) phase,” he said. 

Because the project is still under proposal, Voos could not offer any specifics about its expected costs or duration, but he said it would take multiple years to complete.

To provide feedback or ask questions about the proposed project before the informational meeting on Oct. 26, contact U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Kevin Thompson at kevin.thompson@usda.gov or 970-638-4170.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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