Controlled burn of shrubs scheduled near Battlement Mesa |

Controlled burn of shrubs scheduled near Battlement Mesa

If you see smoke southwest of Battlement Mesa today, don't panic. Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Fuels Management crews are planning to conduct a controlled burn on up to 2,000 acres of remote Gambel oak brush and mixed mountain shrub between Wallace Creek and Alkali Creek.

Smoke is expected to be visible from the burn area near Garfield County Road 306 but should not pose a health hazard, officials said.

This year marks a return to controlled burns in the area after they were suspended in 2012, after the Lower North Fork Fire southwest of Denver was determined to have originated from a prescribed burn.

The Battlement Mesa burn has been put off several times and could be canceled again depending on weather, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

"We've had some definite challenges with the weather," said Toni Toelle of the Forest Service. "It's been snow, it's been rain, and now it may be wind."

The burn is intended to benefit wildlife habitat in the area.

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"Prescribed fire is effective for stimulating sprouting of Gambel oak and other shrubs, which improves browse for big game and other native wildlife," said Forest Service biologist Natasha Goedert. "There is also a need to open up some areas within bighorn sheep range to improve foraging habitat and site distances."

The project is part of a large-scale effort being conducted over a five- to 10-year period in partnership between the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Forest Foundation and other partners to improve habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and other native wildlife across approximately 115,000 acres on the White River National Forest.

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