Forest Service plans for major prescribed burn

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— The U.S. Forest Service could begin prescribed burns in an area along Routt County Road 129 this fall.

The burns would be part of the proposed Big Creek Ridge Prescribed Fire, which would affect about 4,000 acres of what is mostly scrub oak in an area north of Mad Creek, east of Routt County Road 129 and south of Clark. Of that area, about 2,500 acres will be burned black.

U.S. Forest Service officials gave a presentation on the project Tuesday night to a crowd of residents in Clark. Representatives from the half dozen public groups partnering with the Forest Service on the project were present.

Officials answered various questions, such as how the prescribed burns would benefit wildlife, who would be responsible if a private home were accidentally burned, and what the timeline for the project would be.

The final day for public comments on the project was the Tuesday meeting, and the U.S. Forest Service expects to have a decision on what to burn and when to burn it by the end of next week, said Kim Vogel, a Routt National Forest District ranger. Vogel said public comments might still be accepted this week and early next week.

"It's going to be a quick decision," Vogel said, referring to the short period between accepting public comment and choosing a course of action.

Compared to other Forest Service projects, this one has had a fast-paced public comment period because of new regulations from the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, Vogel said after the meeting.

The new rules mean some projects, such as those involving prescribed burns, do not require as much documentation beforethe Forest Service makes a decision, she said. A lot of analysis still has gone into the project, but the Forest Service only has had to fully consider an "action" and a "no action" alternative.

In the past year and a half, Forest Service officials have surveyed about 23,000 acres in this area, coming up with suggested treatments ranging from mechanical thinning, in which shrubs are cut, stacked and burned or taken away, to prescribed burns.

Besides decreasing the risk of widespread, intense wildfires, the treatments could renew vegetation to help redistribute winter elk and deer grazing, Forest Service officials said.

During Tuesday's meeting, Steve Stranahan, co-owner of the Home Ranch, asked that the Forest Service provide specific details on what's going to happen when. The Home Ranch is next to an area proposed for burning.

"I think that would relieve a lot of people's worries about what's going to happen," he said.

After the meeting, Stranahan said he learned of the project at a private July 28 meeting between residents and the Forest Service. For the Home Ranch, business depends on what nearby forests look like, as many people come to the ranch for hikes and horseback rides in the woods.

Nearby landowners that could be affected were contacted about the project this spring, Vogel said, and a letter about the proposal was sent out a few weeks ago.

Information on the project is available at the Steamboat Springs U.S. Forest Service office, and online at www.fs.fed. us/r2/mbr/projects.


-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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