Local Views and Local News: Fuel Treatments in Jefferson County, Colorado

EVERGREEN, CO - MAY 7: A worker moves recently cut trees into a pile at Birch Hill Park on May 7, 2014, in Evergreen, Colorado. A crew made up of Denver Mountain Parks employees and volunteers, with the help of Jefferson County workers, have been clearing out the dense parts of the area to improve forest health and help mitigate potential fire hazards. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

EVERGREEN, CO – MAY 7: A worker moves recently cut trees into a pile at Birch Hill Park on May 7, 2014, in Evergreen, Colorado. A crew made up of Denver Mountain Parks employees and volunteers, with the help of Jefferson County workers, have been clearing out the dense parts of the area to improve forest health and help mitigate potential fire hazards. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

I continue to be fascinated by the difference between “fuels treatments on NFS land” (controversial! scientifically questionable! excuses for rampant logging!) and “fuels treatments on anyone else’s land” (wish we could do more! protects communities!). To that end, the difference between national, regional and local coverage is interesting. Here’s about as local as you can get.. YourHub of the Denver Post in Jefferson County, CO.

Wildfire mitigation in Jefferson County foothills is a joint effort
By Josie Klemaier
YourHub Reporter

EVERGREEN —Last year, Dave Flanagan’s insurance provider threatened to drop fire insurance for his Evergreen-area property due to poor fire mitigation around his property.

“I had to point out to them I was doing everything per the standards,” he said, but he couldn’t say the same about his neighbor, one of the parks in the Denver Mountain Parks system.

Denver Mountain Parks, owned by the city of Denver, occupy 14,000 acres of land and 10,000 of those acres are forested, said Andy Perri, Denver Mountain Parks’ forestry program manager.

Denver hired Perri in 2010 to focus on fire mitigation efforts and overall forest health.

Since then, Denver Mountain Parks has received $1 million to go toward mitigation efforts on 800 acres of parkland. It expects to receive $500,000 more in 2014, according to an April 30 release.

“Denver Mountain Parks is somewhat limited as far as what we do,” Perri said, referring to the cost of going into sometimes hard-to-access forest to remove dead and downed trees, reduce fuel on the ground and thin trees. He said the cost of such efforts can cost from $500 to $2,200 an acre or more.

Perri admits the numbers seem like a drop in a bucket, but he said a lot of other factors go into the decision of where to put resources, including, but not limited to, wildland-urban interface.

“Of course I want to treat right behind everyone’s house,” he said. “But you also have to look at strategic placement of these projects.”

Perri said he takes calls from concerned residents, goes to the land that is of concern and adds it to his endless project list.

This was the case with Birch Hill Park near North Turkey Creek in south Evergreen. A forest management plan for the area was written, which was used to get a grant for the project. Denver Mountain Parks hired the Jefferson County Sheriff’s fire mitigation program to do the work.

Though it does such work for hire, the Jeffco Sheriff’s program doesn’t have any funds set aside specifically for mitigation work — its main focus is response management, such as creating fuel breaks in the path of active fires, said Mark Gutke, director of critical incident response for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. For preventive mitigation, it helps communities find grants for wildfire protection plans.

It comes down to the property owner, Gutke said.

“The problem is the funding to attack (the acreage) and the desire from property owners, whether it’s the government or private,” he said.

Denver Mountain Parks and Jefferson County Open Space have programs to allow residents to mitigate park property bordering their private property through permit processes. However, like community wildfire protection plans, that requires an investment on the landowner’s part.

Keith Bol is a natural resource team leader for Jefferson County Open Space, which manages more than 53,000 acres of parkland. He said Jeffco Open Space’s efforts focus on healthy forest management, which often includes mitigation.

“We try to tie in our forest management activities into these fuel breaks or fire mitigation work,” he said. “We try to look at a larger area. A lot of it we try to identify by the health of the forest already. By making it healthier, we’re probably going to make it more fire-resistant.”

When it comes to projects focused on mitigation, it’s about proactive community involvement. He said work is more likely to happen where there is private property work nearby.

“We start to look at communities that are working together, willing to do something in an entire development,” Bol said. “We will work on our property if they are doing work on their property.”

6 Comments

  1. You say “I continue to be fascinated by the difference between “fuels treatments on NFS land” (controversial! scientifically questionable! excuses for rampant logging!) and “fuels treatments on anyone else’s land” (wish we could do more! protects communities!).”

    Maybe this case in point will help. The Goose project on the McKenzie District of the Willamette National Forest is touted as a fuel reduction project in the WUI even though it involves lots of commercial logging with no diameter limit in mature forests, riparian reserves, and a 9,000 acre roadless area. When the FS got backlash from the community after they found out about it after t was too late, the FS organized a big community meeting. They invited the Oregon Department of Forestry to talk about the importance of fuel reduction in the community of McKenzie Bridge. ODF talked about clearing brush, pruning branches, moving woodpiles, sweeping debris off roofs, NOT commercial logging. The public would probably be more supportive of FS fuel reduction if it focused on the smallest fuels closest to homes and communities, instead of removing large fuels and commercial logging farther from homes and communities.

    Maybe this explains in part why USFS fuel reduction is often more controversial, and why private land fuel reduction is less controversial.

    • The big difference is pretty obvious.
      The park project cited in the story is costing an average of 1200 bucks an acre to treat. You might get that much money off ground with what, 3000 feet per acre of merch wood? So in this case, there’s no profit to be made by evil exploiters, the picture makes that clear as nobody is going to do anything with the removed stock except maybe chip it into biomass maybe possibly perhaps.
      Then there is the directness of the effect. Social license is a big deal here, a two-edged sword. Failure to manage leading to big scary expensive fires is bad juju for the no-touchie crowd. So they have to go along with some of this in order to not burn up their social license.
      However, the flip side is that people get to see the effects of fuels treatment. Some of them might amazingly connect the dots and say, gee this worked great but was really spendy. Is there any way to make this stuff cost less than 500 to 2200 per acre? And what’s wrong with doing this in the “wild?” Oh, that’s REALLY bad juju.

    • 1) we’ve discussed the Goose Project here many times (although not all the related posts come up on a search). But here is a link to the 2009 writeup in the Mackenzie Bridge. The idea that the District was trying to sneak this project out is not supported by this writeup. (I posted this in 2012 but for some reason the link was broken).

      2) Even if one district did one project wrong, would that call into question all other fuel reductions on all other forests?

      If one states does a bad prescribed burn, should everyone stop?
      If a patient dies on an operating table, should we stop all similar operations?

      I’m really curious as to how you would think that one bad project (even if it were, which I don’t admit) in a rainy area in west side Oregon should influence one’s thinking of fuels reduction projects nation-wide. Or perhaps “the FS can’t be trusted to do fuels reduction projects, while others can.” Please explain.

    • 2nd law, it is ok to harvest trees in our pubic forests and make things our of them. It is a very efficient use of our natural resource of trees and if you have been in our National Forests lately you will fine that there are trees everywhere, with the exception of where they have had fires. It is even ok to cut some large diameter trees. If you have been in our National Forests lately you will also find that there are many large trees also. A few harvested large trees can be of great economic value to any forest project.
      I really don’t think we can expect just deficient spend our way to keep our forest green and healthy and our communities vibrant. And of course so we shouldn’t have to sit back have to watch our forests burn up. I have always felt you can rebuild a house in few years, a forest takes a lot longer.
      Talking about the Goose project, the protest was started by a doctor from Bend, Oregon who thought his view from his cabin in the woods might be jeopardized. If he had been a resident of the area and been paying attention he would of known that the project was going on years. Any of us who have had any dealing with the Forest Service know they do act quickly on timber sales.
      I also happen to attend the timber sale of some of the Goose units.
      There were a few protesters outside the sale. I was there to buy a roadside fire salvage sale that included some of the largest dead trees the Willamette had sold in years. It was nice to be under the radar as the protesters were there to protest a Goose thinning sale.

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