Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary



Much of the success in Boulder County stems from having continuous interest in treatment for some 25 years that has contributed to strong relationships built through mitigation and suppression activities. Given Boulder County's fragmented land ownership, interagency cooperation and partnerships are a necessity for wildfire mitigation. They have organized inter-agency multilateral forums for meeting on both wildfire mitigation (Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group) and suppression (Boulder County Fire Fighter's Association). Colorado State Forest Service works closely with the United States Forest Service and coordinates their private property mitigation efforts with adjacent USFS public property mitigation work. CSFS has a strong private property landowner wildfire mitigation treatment focus through defensible space work and fuel breaks. CSFS has good working relationships with homeowners enabling private property hazardous fuels reduction treatment work. Boulder County has been forward thinking in their early land use planning and regulations enacted and enforced. There is strong public outreach and mitigation education through the County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist's position, the Winiger Ridge project, and the effort of the local Red Cross office.

On the suppression side, Boulder County has some of the best-educated, equipped and trained wildland firefighters in the western U.S. For 20 years the Boulder County Fire Fighters Association has been meeting on a monthly basis. This is an interagency group comprised of all the suppression players that provides a forum for local, county, state, and federal agencies and emergency service organizations to share information, coordinate actions, explore grant opportunities, and organize training efforts. Additionally, there is an interagency Task Force for wildfire initial response, the Boulder County Wildland Task Force, which falls under the auspices of the Boulder County Sheriff's Department. The county also has its own Type III helicopter air support, Rocky Mountain Helitack, which is its own non-profit entity. Some issues have arisen recently with jurisdictional disputes among some of the fire suppression players in Boulder County. It is unclear whether and how these challenges will be worked out.

The biggest challenge the county faces is how to utilize the wood and slash from thinning projects. Marketing and utilization of the small diameter wood remains a constant challenge to the entire Front Range area. The biomass in Boulder County has little merchantable value. Some of it can be used for post and pole fencing and firewood, but much is not commercially viable. The bio-energy movement in Nederland and potentially for Boulder County's new Parks and Open Space building has great potential to deal with the slash resulting from the forest mitigation work. There are also a number of other projects aimed at utilizing biomass and residue from forest thinnings that are currently being discussed along the Front Range.

Boulder County also has not focused explicitly on restoration work, calling into question the sustainability of the on-going vegetation fuel reduction project. Moving toward fire adapted ecosystems has its challenges - urban and urbanizing environments are difficult for prescribed burning due to air quality regulations and homeowner concerns. Nonetheless, without fire to control re-growth, it is unclear how the work can be maintained in the long run.

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Copyright©2004 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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