Federal ban postpones planned burns in Routt

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— Two controlled fires planned in the Yampa Ranger District of the Routt National Forest have been postponed because of the recent suspension of prescribed fires on federal lands.

The ban doesn't apply to people lighting campfires on federal lands.

"It just means we can't intentionally set a fire," Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said.

On May 12, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced the 30-day suspension, prompted by a prescribed burn near Los Alamos, N.M., that grew out of control and has destroyed 260 homes.

Controlled burns are used to strengthen tree stands, clear sagebrush, reduce fuels and improve grazing lands.

The prescribed fires postponed in the Yampa District would be range burns intended to improve rangelands for livestock and wildlife grazing near Long Park and Lone Spring, Forest Service field specialist Glenn Webb said.

The district had hoped to complete the burns during the spring burn window. That window has been closing rapidly, and the federal lands burn ban guarantees the range burning won't happen this spring, Webb said.

Despite the federal ban and a very active spring for wildland fires in Routt County, no local fire ban for private land is in the works.

An out-of-control blaze earlier this week on Lynx Pass was the 25th time this spring that fire crews in the county had to be called to control a fire, Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said.

The fires have nearly exhausted the county's wildland fire suppression budget of $2,500 before the fire season even has started, Vale said.

Last year, $27,000 was needed for fire suppression efforts. Vale said he wasn't sure if last season was a fluke, but he now knows there may be the need for more money in the budget.

Either way, there will be no fire ban in the near future.

"I don't know if I'm prepared to tell people that they can't burn on their own land," Vale said.

Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said the recent moisture helped reduce the danger of fires growing out of control, but he is keeping his eye on the weather.

"It's been an unusual year but I don't think it warrants a ban," he said.

Besides wanting to wait until better conditions to burn, Webb, the Forest Service field specialist, said the 30-day federal suspension provides time for officials to come up with new guidelines for prescribed burns to ensure safety.

"There may be more specific direction on how we access the risk for burns," Webb said.

Changes to guidelines for burning on federal lands could make prescribed burning a less objective process, allowing for fewer decisions by people and more dependence on written guidelines, Webb said.

He expects to see some sort of report in a month.


To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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