Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary
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location mapBoulder County is situated in the north-central part of Colorado, northwest of Denver. The county is diversified, with rural and urban settings; the western border of the county is the Continental Divide, and the eastern side is rolling plains. Elevation ranges from 5,000 feet on the plains to 14,000-foot mountain peaks. Vegetation ranges from ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and lodgepole pine to aspen stands. The county encompasses 753 square miles, with about 600 square miles at risk to wildfire. The population of the county is approximately 297,000, with about 94,600 in the City of Boulder, 71,000 in the City of Longmont, 38,200 in the City of Broomfield. The population of Boulder County is growing at an average rate of 3% per year, and has increased 29% between 1990 and 2000, with increased mountain development and recreational pressures. Over 154,000 people in the county live in wildfire hazard areas, and the county experiences an average of 100 fire starts per year. Over the past 15 years the county has seen a number of major wildland fires, and until 2001, held the Colorado record for structural losses from wildland fires. This was due largely to the 1989 Black Tiger fire, which claimed 44 homes and the 1990 Olde Stage fire, which took 10 homes.

WUI pictureAccording to the U.S. Census, Boulder County is comprised of an educated and affluent population, 92.8% have a high school degree or higher, and the median household income is $55,861. Median home value is $241,900, with only 1.7% seasonal homes. The culture of Boulder County emphasizes environmental values and outdoor recreation. Boulder County has intermixed land ownership. Approximately 60% of the land is owned publicly with 40% owned privately. Public land is divided among a variety of local, state and federal managers including the United States Forest Service, Boulder County Open Space , the City of Boulder and State Parks.


Main Participants in Fire Mitigation in Boulder County

The primary participants involved in fire mitigation in Boulder County are Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) , Boulder County Land Use , Boulder County Open Space & Mountain Parks, Sheriff's Departments, Boulder County Firefighter's Association, various local Fire Protection Districts, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), City of Boulder Fire Department , American Red Cross, forestry contractors and consultants, insurance and real estate industry, and private landowners and home associations.

Mitigating Wildfire Risk in Boulder County

Boulder County has a comparatively longer history than other counties in Colorado not only in addressing its wildfire risk, but also in working in partnership with various agencies and organizations. Beginning in the late 1970s, several land management agencies and private citizens initiated the Front Range Vegetation Management Pilot Project, which came to be called "The We Commitment." This Agreement was a collaborative, multi-agency, agreement to improve forest health from problems caused by mountain pine beetles and associated general decline in forest heath. From 1977-80, forest health issues again were addressed through the Front Range Vegetation Mt. Pilot Project. Forest health issues continued to be addressed during the 1980-83 period with the Allenspark Cooperative Forest Management demonstration area in northern Boulder County. From 1984-1987 the Lefthand/St. Vrain Cooperative Forest Management Area conducted extensive forest management activities on federal, private and other lands. This was followed briefly by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Colorado State Forest Service and the United States Forest Service that allowed CSFS to work on USFS lands adjacent to private lands. After 1987 much of the vegetation treatment effort stopped due to numerous reasons, one of which was that nothing catastrophic was happening (i.e., Boulder County was not experiencing large wildfires, pine beetle and spruce budworm epidemics were over). In 1989, the Black Tiger Creek Fire erupted and was the most destructive fire the county has experienced in recent history. This fire resulted in the formation of the Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group, the main entity for coordinating wildfire mitigation in the county. In addition to the Black Tiger Fire, Boulder County has witnessed several major wildfires in recent times; most notably the 1988 Lefthand Canyon Fire and Beaver Lake Fire, the 1990 Olde Stage Fire, the 2001 Walker Ranch Fire, and the 2003 Overland Fire. These fires collectively destroyed 66 homes, burned over 10,500 acres, and threatened the lives and properties of thousands of mountain residents. The continued prevalence of wildfire threat coupled with historical coordinated and cooperative action has allowed Boulder County to create some unique and impressive mitigation responses to its wildfire threat.


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

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