Monday, February 24, 2003
Steamboat Springs Images of charred trees and homes that did not survive the wildfires of 2002 flashed on a projector screen Monday morning for an audience familiar with the destruction.
"Last summer is one we'd like to forget," Dave Leatherman of the Colorado State Forest Service told his listeners.
Leatherman offered county, fire and U.S. Forest Service officials a look at the effects of drought, wildfire, insects and disease on forests in the state in 2002.
Leatherman is sharing the same photos and information with counties throughout the state.
The Colorado Division of Forestry prepares an annual report on the health of Colorado's forests. The 2002 report details several narratives of the larger wildfires in the state, including the Mount Zirkel Complex and Lost Lake and Big Fish fires that affected Routt County.
Fewer fires were reported statewide last year, but those fires consumed more than 501,000 acres, destroyed 384 houses and cost $152 million.
The state Forest Service hopes the report keeps last summer's devastation fresh in the minds of Coloradans.
"Human nature is such that if the trees aren't red and in your face, you forget about it," Leatherman said.
Government agencies and private landowners in the county have not forgotten. They have been working on strategies to improve forest health.
One such plan is the Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project.
When Congress approved a $1.8 billion National Fire Plan in 2000 to address the dangerous accumulation of trees and brush on public lands, the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest received $400,000 to devise a plan that would safely reduce the threat of severe wildfires around Steamboat Springs.
The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project evolved from a lengthy environmental assessment of fire-prone areas and public input. The plan encompasses land on the north side of the Steamboat Ski Area, down to Buffalo Pass and westward to Elk River Road all the way to Copper Ridge, as well as Morrison Creek near Stagecoach.
Local U.S. Forest Service officials are eager to implement the project but lack the money to move forward on the entire plan.
"We don't always get those dollars," Forest Service District Ranger Kim Vogel said.
Fuels specialist Mark Cahur said enough money is available to address about 150 acres of dangerous build-up of brush and trees in the Buffalo Pass/ Soda Creek area and possibly another 300 acres in the Stagecoach area.
The Forest Service would reduce the build-up through a series of controlled burns and some thinning or removal of smaller trees and brush that grow among larger trees.
Weather and wind conditions are closely monitored to ensure a controlled burn does not get out of control.
Cahur expects the project to begin sometime in early April.
The latest report on the health of Colorado's forests is online at www.forestry.state.co.us.