Blacktail Mountain to be burned | SteamboatToday.com

Blacktail Mountain to be burned

915-acre Stagecoach project expected to reduce fuels, improve habitat

Melinda Dudley

— A large swath of land along the shore of Stagecoach Reservoir, at Blacktail Mountain, will undergo a prescribed burn next spring carried out by the Bureau of Land Management in coordination with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The 915-acre parcel lines the north shore of Stagecoach Reservoir and forms the south slope of Blacktail Mountain – an area that has been targeted for prescribed burns in the past.

“It’s a pretty visible spot,” said Gail Martinez, a wildlife biologist from the Little Snake Field Office of the BLM. “We really couldn’t do much treatment in that area due to the terrain, and it wouldn’t be cost effective.”

The burn is a fuels reduction and a habitat improvement project. Blacktail Mountain is a habitat area for wintering elk in particular, Colorado Division of Wildlife public information officer Randy Hampton said.

Most of the targeted 915-acre site is a “typical mountain shrub community,” Martinez said, home to plant species including bitterbrush, sagebrush, oak brush and serviceberry.

“The age-class structure of most of the shrubs in that area have kind of reached their limit,” Martinez said. “What the fire will do is kind of invigorate new growth.”

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The goal of the prescribed burn will be to burn as much as 70 percent of the existing vegetation in the area, stimulating fire-dependent plant species while killing the more mature sagebrush plants, Martinez said.

Blacktail Mountain is defined as a wildlife-urban interface by the Fire Management Plan for the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Program. It is a priority area for hazardous fuels reduction given its proximity to the Stagecoach community and Stagecoach State Park.

BLM officials met with neighboring landowners and interested Stagecoach residents at the Stagecoach fire station Sept. 23, along with representatives from Stagecoach State Park. Notices have been sent to nearby landowners, and feedback has been positive, Martinez said.

In addition to being a winter feeding ground for elk, Blacktail Mountain is a notable habitat for bears, deer and smaller mammals such as chipmunks and rabbits, Martinez said.

“It’s possible mountain lions could go through there, too,” Martinez said.

No specific ignition date has been set, but the BLM is aiming to carry out the burn early in spring 2009. Spring is the ideal time of year for such a burn becauase of low temperatures and high moisture levels, Martinez said.

While there’s still snow on the ground, the snow lines can be used for containment as natural firebreaks to keep the flames in the burn area, she said.

“With a prescribed burn, there’s always a possibility for it to get out of hand,” Martinez said. “If we were to do the same burn in late fall, it could be a little different.”