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State Forest Service, county work for fire protection plan

By Jeremy Heiman

Special to the Post Independent



Thousands of acres of private land in Garfield County lie outside established fire districts – a no-man’s land for firefighters.

Now, Garfield County government and the Colorado State Forest Service are working on a plan for fire protection, prevention and firefighting for those lands. The two agencies are seeking $18,000 for the project from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.



The unprotected lands run for miles from the western edge of the Grand Valley Fire Protection District to the Utah line, and in parts of Spring Valley east of Glenwood Springs.

Although the county has no firefighting capability of its own, the Garfield County sheriff has the responsibility for fighting wildfires in those areas. A fire plan is needed to aid the sheriff in coordinating firefighting efforts by other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, in these areas.

The Colorado State Forest Service, a division of Colorado State University, is involved because it is the state agency responsible for mapping fire hazard areas and coordinating wildfire planning.

The new county fire plan is expected to include:

– Assessment of wildfire hazard on all lands within the county.

– Maps showing details of fire hazards, buildings and other developments.

– Information on agreements between government entities and fire protection districts.

– Analysis of state law as it applies to fires within the county.

– History of large wildfires and interaction among agencies in dealing with wildfires within the county.

– Analysis of various options for wildfire protection of private land not within fire districts in the county.

– Identification of private lands where reduction of fuel for wildfires, perhaps by controlled burning or cutting, can be coordinated with similar projects on adjacent public lands.

“We write where the hazards are, and what can be done to achieve improvement,” said John Denison, a wildfire coordinator for the State Forest Service.

Dave Silvieus, district ranger for the Rifle Ranger District of the White River National Forest, said a fire plan helps in winning approval to thin or burn areas of the national forest where vegetation buildup poses a threat to private property.

“When plans are in place,” Silvieus said, “we can move through the environmental analysis and the public process faster.” New federal legislation called the Healthy Forests Initiative reduces the amount of environmental review needed before forest managers can proceed with logging or other methods intended to reduce fire hazards.

“It does allow you to fall into a category of actions that can be excluded from the National Environmental Protection Act,” Silvieus continued. “Sometimes, once you get through the NEPA requirements, you’re three or four years out.”

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext 534

jheiman@postindependent.com


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