The U.S. Forest Service has decided to start prescribed burns in an area along Routt County Road 129 this fall, burning about 400 acres now and eventually affecting 4,000 acres.
The Big Creek Ridge Prescribed Fire project will burn areas of scrub oak north of Mad Creek, east of C.R. 129 and south of Clark. Of the affected area, only about 2,500 acres will be burned black.
"We want to reduce existing accumulated fuels, we want to reduce potential severe fire behavior, and we want to reintroduce fire to a fire-adapted ecosystem," said Rob Sexton, U.S. Forest Service spokesman. "The benefits include reduced risk to firefighters, the public, property and resources. And, it will regenerate winter browsing in a very heavily used elk winter range."
The decision officially was made Friday, after the Forest Service held several meetings with nearby private landowners in July, as well as a public meeting about the project in August.
Compared to other Forest Service projects, this one had a fast-paced public comment period because there was not much resistance to the proposal, Sexton said. Instead of getting "no ways" from neighboring property owners, the Forest Service got agreement for the most part, he said.
Steven Stranahan, co-owner of The Home Ranch, said that at first the Forest Service did not explain the project well. Communication has improved, however, so he and other private property owners in the area now better understand what the Forest Service plans to do.
Residents will have to wait to see before deciding whether the burns are successful, he said.
"It all comes out in the cooking," he said.
The Home Ranch is one of several properties bordering a proposed burn area. The burns could have a big impact on the ranch, as its business depends on visitors who may not enjoy seeing a black landscape, Stranahan said.
In the past year and a half, Forest Service officials have surveyed about 23,000 acres in this area, coming up with suggested treatments including mechanical thinning -- in which shrubs are cut, stacked and burned or taken away -- and prescribed burns.
The project proposes burns in six phases during the next three years, Sexton said. Phase I, with burns in the area of Long Draw and the Greenville Mine Road, should take place this fall. No private partners are involved with this phase because the burns are only on public land, he said. However, private landowners may get involved later in the process.
Various public partners with the Forest Service include the Upper Yampa Habitat Partnership Program, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Bureau of Land Management and the State Land Board.
Because prescribed burns are weather related, there is not a definite timeline, Sexton said. However, the Forest Service plans to notify residents a week to 10 days before the burns, with public announcements and signs along nearby roads.
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.