Steamboat Springs Federal agencies now have an official strategy in place for dealing with wildland fires on federal lands in Northwest Colorado.
The Routt National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently created a joint plan that outlines how wildland fires in northwest section of the state will be handled.
The Craig/Routt Fire Management Plan takes some of the guessing work out of what action agencies should take when a fire starts.
"This is a big deal for us," said Kim Vogel, district ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District.
"We know immediately what we should do when a wildland fire occurs."
A critical element of the plan is a map that identifies what regions of Northwest Colorado require different strategies for managing wildland fire.
The map gives officials an idea of areas that could be left to burn safely and areas that require full suppression.
Zones that mandate full suppression include high-risk and high-value areas, where homes touch the forest, and areas of ecological concern, where watersheds exist and timber production occurs.
Although the plan calls for full suppression in drought conditions, some areas would be allowed to burn under the right conditions, said Mark Cahur, fuels specialist with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.
The plan recognizes the value of allowing nature to take its course in wilderness and other remote regions where property and humans would not be affected by fire, he said.
Smaller fires caused by lightning are healthy for the forests because they lessen the possibility of larger catastrophic fires, he said.
Lightning strikes cause countless wildfires in Northwest Colorado every year.
Under the plan, if lightning caused a fire in a remote blowdown area and conditions were favorable, fire officials might monitor the fire and permit it to burn. A fire caused by lightning in an area where homes and other property might be threatened would be immediately suppressed.
The plan is the product of collaboration among the different federal agencies, said Diann Pipher, public affairs specialist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.
The Routt National Forest Resource and Land Management Plan and Federal Wildland Fire Policy call for the development and implementation of such a plan.
Similar plans exist in other geographic areas of the United States, she said.
A wildfire management strategy for Northwest Colorado has been in the works as early as 1995, Cahur said.
He stressed the plan was not rigid and would allow for change if better solutions came along.
"It's a dynamic plan," he said.