Budget news a boon for fuel reduction | PostIndependent.com

Budget news a boon for fuel reduction

Positive financial news for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Springs Field Office could translate into increased protection from wildfires in local communities.

Jamie Connell, the BLM’s field manager in Glenwood, said the local office recently received final word about its 2004 budget. She feels it will be sufficient for the office to do its wide-ranging job, which includes fuel-reduction projects.

“We’re feeling pretty good about it,” she said of the office’s budget.

“We’ve got some fuels projects that are funded for this year.”

Plans are for at least one project to occur in the Glenwood Springs area. The BLM will be clearing out brush from the communications site at the top of Lookout Mountain, in order to reduce the risk of a wildfire disabling those facilities.

Connell said Red Hill near Carbondale and another area south of Gypsum are among other areas where projects are planned.

The BLM works in some cases with the U.S. Forest Service in planning and carrying out such projects. It also will be doing some planning with Eagle County to identify areas where projects might be warranted.

Connell said much of the focus is on reducing the danger in the urban/wildland interface, where wildfires can put homes at risk.

Fuel-reduction projects can include prescribed burns and/or mechanical thinning. Connell said thinning ” which can involve a combination of approaches such as cutting with chain saws and killing with chemicals and then clearing ” is a safer approach when homes are nearby.

In some cases, such as the Lookout Mountain project, the goal is to remove all brush, so only grass remains and any fires moving through would not burn as hot and pose such a risk of damage, Connell said. That project will involve removal of oak brush, which can be extremely flammable during a drought.

Another typical project might involve thinning a juniper forest so there is less chance of a fire jumping from tree to tree, she said.

The Roan Plateau factor

The Glenwood BLM office’s budget has actually decreased slightly, from just over $2 million in the 2003 fiscal year to $1.93 million in fiscal 2004.

But Steve Bennett, associate manager of the office, said much of that drop reflects the extra money that had been required for the agency to work on its draft environmental impact statement for management of the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle. That plan is due to released within a few weeks.

Connell has predicted that the plan could cost the agency $1 million by the time the final plan is adopted. Bennett said the biggest expense involved preparing the draft version of it.

While BLM offices only recently received final 2004 budgets, the agency already is proposing a 2005 national budget of $1.7 billion, which it says includes $53 million more for programs than its 2004 budget.

“The process actually takes quite a bit of time,” Connell said of BLM budgeting.

The 2005 budget applies to a fiscal year that begins in October 2004. But Congress sometimes doesn’t approve a budget by the start of a fiscal year, as happened this year. In those cases, it instead generally appropriates interim funding that the agency operates on until a final budget is in place.

Programs see increases

Bennett said the local office’s 2004 budget includes spending increases in a wide range of areas including riparian, cultural, wildlife, fisheries, recreation, oil and gas and other programs.

The proposed 2005 national budget proposes continuing increases in several areas of interest to the local office.

One of them would involve an $800,000 boost in the Land and Realty Management program. According to a news release from the BLM, the goal of this increase is to help the agency meet the nation’s energy needs by enhancing the permitting of renewable energy development, and processing of rights of way for both renewable and traditional energy resources.

With Garfield County a hot spot for natural gas drilling, Connell said the BLM is seeing an increasing number of right of way requests for gas pipelines. Other requests sometimes pertain to upgrading of electrical transmission lines, she said.

On the renewable energy front, she said her office has had some preliminary inquiries by people interested in wind-generated power. At least one party is looking over much of northwestern Colorado for potential wind-generation sites, she said.

The BLM also is working with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments on potential uses for biofuels. This could involve using wood removed in fuel-reduction programs to generate energy for local needs, or turning it into processed lumber.

Another energy-related budget initiative the BLM is working on involves boosting fees it charges related to energy and minerals programs, such as for right of way applications. The goal is for the applicants to more fully cover the costs of the services they require of the agency.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516


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