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


WGA Goal - Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems

Actions to meet goal

  • Perform burned area stabilization and rehabilitation work in emergency areas
  • Restore burned areas and repair and improve lands unlikely to recover
  • Place priority on at risk watersheds that have been damaged by wildland fire
  • Establish native seeds and other plant material
  • Publicize and train in the use of minimum impact suppression activities
  • Promote research of effective restoration practices
  • Research interactions between fire, land management and other disturbances

There is not much happening in La Plata County in terms of restoring fire adapted ecosystems beyond the Missionary Ridge and Valley Fires rehabilitation efforts. The most impressive example of restoration in the five county area is the Ponderosa Pine Partnership in Montezuma County.

The Ponderosa Pine Partnership

A group of county government officials, national forest managers, university researchers, loggers and local folks, emerged out of gridlock on the National Forests in 1992 to demonstrate that rebuilding forest health can support a commercially self-sufficient timber program. The objective is forest restoration where historic ponderosa pine stands are replicated. The goal is to do mechanical thinning and prescribed fire, to produce openings where groups of ponderosa pine are recreated. The prescription tries to appreciate the natural variability within the system and approximates 40-60 trees per acre, clumped with large tree components. There is no diameter cap. Controlled burning is allowed to reintroduce fire into the ecosystem. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) retained responsibility for post-harvest burning.

In 1995, pilot projects on 550 acres San Juan National Forest (SJNF) land and 300 acres of private land were thinned to pre-1870 reference conditions and treated by controlled fire. The timber sale was contracted to Montezuma County for $9,999 for research and demonstration. The county resold timber to local loggers for $30,000 and used the profit to fund ecological and economic research. The first timber sale resulted in an economic loss for the loggers, so the group had to figure out a way to make the Partnership work economically for the loggers. The second sale came closer to allowing the loggers to turn a profit. The goal is to keep approximately 900 acres per year under the restoration prescription and fashion sale opportunities to meet the needs of existing local industry while monitoring vegetation responses on all restoration activities. Since the first sale the Partnership has offered 12 timber sales ranging from 15 to 1,480 acres.

As of 2003, the Ponderosa Pine Partnership has restored 3,650 acres of ponderosa pine forest, with a total of 8,000 acres under contract to be treated. The first contract was let beginning in 1995 and the most recent in 2002. One of the problems is that under these contracts, the contractor can delay the cutting. The cutting began for the demonstration site in 1996, but the majority is just now being cut in 2003. Nine different contractors have been used with two main contractors, Ragland and Sons and Intermountain Resources, LLC. On average, 1,000 acres per year are being contracted out. The USFS is trying to put up sales on a regular basis to give industry a pipeline of work. None of the projects have been litigated. The by-products had been going to the Louisiana Pacific mill in Olathe for small diameter house logs (9-14 inches), but in 2002 the Louisiana Pacific mill stopped taking the small diameter material. They had been utilizing the wood at a loss because of the high transportation costs due to distance to site. Ragland and Sons in Montezuma County now has emerged to take small diameter material and is turning it into landscape mulch. They are also composting some of the by-product.




Missionary Ridge burn map


Missionary Ridge Fire Rehabilitation

In 2003, San Juan Public Lands Center received $1.9 million for rehabilitation of the Missionary Ridge Fire. About 13,000 acres of Missionary Ridge Fire area were burned severely, causing erosion and debris flows. In 2002 SJPLC received $4.5 million to complete a Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) plan. About half of that money was spent on emergency stabilization to prevent additional damage and minimize threats to life and property. BAER projects planned for 2003 include continued operation of early-warning weather stations, landslide assessment monitoring and mapping, erosion control efforts on trails in the burned area, culvert installation on Missionary Ridge and Pine River Roads, reseeding of up to 18,000 acres of severely burned land and reconstruction of log-erosion barriers. Other treatment for long-term rehabilitation included in the $1.9 million for 2003 include removal of hazardous trees along Missionary Ridge Road, work to make other roads in the burned area safe for travel, invasive plant treatments, insect and disease control, restoring water developments for wildlife and livestock, fence repair, seed collection and planning for reforestation and rehabilitation of fire lines.

picture of flood sign


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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University