Roan Plateau burns, fish barrier to improve wildlife habitat |

Roan Plateau burns, fish barrier to improve wildlife habitat

The Bureau of Land Management will carry out several habitat improvement projects in the East Fork Parachute Creek drainage, including prescribed fires and construction of a fish barrier.

This fall, BLM hopes to burn up to 1,200 acres on top of the Roan Plateau to improve aspen regeneration in the East Fork Parachute Creek drainage. It’s part of a three-year cooperative project among the BLM, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Williams Production Co. to improve forest health on the Roan. Williams is contributing $75,000 over the three years for the project.

The acreage is split between two areas. The first area expected to be burned is about 600 acres in the Grassy Gulch and Camp Gulch areas. If time and conditions allow, another 600 acres would be burned near First Anvil Creek. A third 219-acre parcel is planned to be burned in 2012.

By clearing the thick understory and old, decadent aspens, the burns should create ideal conditions for new aspens to regenerate, creating a new, healthier aspen forest.

Timing of the fall burns will depend on weather and moisture conditions on the ground.

“The ideal time will be after the first frost, when the leaves are off the aspen trees and the snowberry understory has dried,” said Rusty Stark, fuels specialist for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office.

Because aspen forests hold moisture so well, fall is typically the only season that gives fire managers the ideal conditions for a safe, effective fire.

“We will do our best to avoid big game hunting seasons, but the window we’ll get to burn will be narrow, and much of the fall months are covered by one hunting season or another,” Stark said.

Impacts to hunters this fall should be minimal. Maps showing where the burns are planned are already posted on the Roan and online at Wildlife in the West evolved with wildfire and typically do not move far from a fire.

“We are expecting long-term benefits from these prescribed fires,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “Fire can significantly improve habitat for deer and elk, and hunters should keep in mind that an inconvenience today can mean significantly improved hunting opportunities in the future.”

Fish barrier isolates cutthroat trout

BLM is also working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Trout Unlimited to install a fish barrier in East Fork Parachute Creek as part of an effort to maintain native Colorado River cutthroat trout in this drainage.

The Colorado River cutthroats on the Roan Plateau are considered some of the most genetically pure, but non-native brook trout introduced many years ago into the East Fork Parachute Creek are threatening that drainage’s cutthroat population.

“If we don’t take action now, we expect the cutthroat to be completely gone from the East Fork in one to three years,” said BLM West Slope Fisheries Biologist Tom Fresques.

The concrete fish barrier will be installed near the confluence with Third Water Gulch. It will prevent brook trout from moving upstream, which will allow biologists to begin reclaiming the cutthroat population upstream of the barrier.

“Any population of native cutthroat trout is worth preserving,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “There are very few left in this state due to pressures from non-native species like brook trout, so protecting a near genetically pure population like this one is especially important.”

“Many Coloradoans only know of the Roan as a flash point for controversy over oil and gas development,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “But it is also the home to some great collaborative projects among agencies, conservationists, and industry. We are proud to be partners in the on-the-ground efforts to help the Roan’s fish and wildlife.”

For more information about these projects, call the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office, (970) 876-9000.

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