Rain-fueled grasses now make fire fuel in western Colorado | PostIndependent.com

Rain-fueled grasses now make fire fuel in western Colorado

Kelli Rollin and Brett Milam
Post Independent Staff Writers

Spring brought an unusual amount of rain to western Colorado, but that doesn’t eliminate the risk for fires.

“Fire season gets more complicated,” said Joe Ramey, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Weather is an input into fire, but it’s not the only input.”

Ramey said the second half of June has been drier, which is more normal for the area.

“We had a very unusual early June,” Ramey said. “With the wet spring, we build up a lot of fine fuels and grasses.”

The high grass is now drying out, Ramey said, which can be an “easy ignition force.” Things like car mufflers and cigarette butts could ignite dry grass.

Hot weather dries the vegetation and melts the snow, slowing streamflows.

Steve Anders, a supervisory hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geological Survey, said high water flows are all downhill from here.

Due to heavy rain combined with snowmelt, the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs was flowing near 20,000 cubic feet per second in early June. Now, the flow is about 10,000 cfs, which is still above the normal 8,000 cfs.

“We went into the early summer and spring with a low snowpack,” Anders said. “What we thought was going to be a low flow year turned out to be substantial.”

Anders said he expects the flows to continually recede to normal, but all of that could change with turbulent precipitation.

He said short thunderstorms won’t affect runoff or river flow much, but intense, heavy storms would.

“They can create some flash flooding,” Anders said, which he noted would create problems for river users.

But Anders is confident that river flows won’t reach 20,000 cfs anytime soon.

“We’re not going to see that again,” he said. “Nothing approaching what we’ve already seen for volume.”

WHAT ABOUT BEARS?

Did the rain help with natural forage for bears, which might help keep them out of towns and reduce conflicts with people, which were frequent last year?

The berry crop seems to be doing well in the Glenwood area, said Dan Cacho, Colorado Parks and Wildlife game warden for Glenwood.

“I don’t think frost was much of a factor this year, and all the spring moisture that we had really helped,” Cacho said in an email.

Berries should start coming into season in the next few weeks, he said. Acorns are already beginning to show, too, he added.

If it stays hot and dry, however, it could harm these natural sources of food, Cacho said.

“Pray for a little bit of rain,” he said.

Even with more favorable food conditions going into the summer months, Mike Porras, public information officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, warned that people must take preventative measures.

“In the Roaring Fork Valley, it’s been traditionally a hot spot for bear activity,” Porras said. “We’re talking about an opportunistic omnivore.”

Porras said to secure trash, lock windows, keep pets inside at night and don’t keep bird feeders out during summer months. When camping, keep a clean campsite, use bear-proof food lockers and don’t take any scented food into the tents.

More information on all of the preventative measures to take when dealing with bears can be found at http://tinyurl.com/BearAdvice.

The department’s “Living with Bears” brochure notes that black bears are naturally shy and their normal response to people is to run away.

The black bears, which number 16,000 to 18,000 across the state, are not after people, but they are still large, intelligent animals.

“This year we expect natural food to do well. But there will always be bears taught by their mothers that humans are a good natural source of food,” Porras said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a two-strikes policy when it concerns bears. Unless it’s an aggressive bear, on the first strike — being found in an area they’re not supposed to be — the bears are trapped, tagged and relocated to another area 50 to 100 miles away.

On the second strike, the bear is put down.

“When we put a bear down, people really don’t like it,” Porras said. “We will remove an animal if it concerns human health and safety.”


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