Fighting Fire with Science

State experts visit Uncompahgre Plateau to discusses collaboration

By Kati O’Hare, Daily Press Writer

The Uncompahgre Plateau become the focal point for researchers and fire management officials who came to the area this week to learn about and share methods in which to manage and prevent fire under power lines. With its varying elevations comprised of diverse terrain, the plateau was a perfect study area, said David Gann of the Nature Conservancy, which sponsored the two-day field trip. Also making it a perfect study area is the fact that the Western Area Power Association’s main lines to support power in Phoenix zigzag across the plateau. “Fire on the plateau could shut down a significant amount of power,” Gann said Wednesday. “Today, we shared ideas on how to decrease the risk of fire under power lines. … there are cost benefits in doing it well.”

Tim Garvey, Forest Service, shares information on fuels work accomplished along the powerlines

Dozens of experts — ranging from forest ecology professors at Colorado State University to federal forest and wildlife officers and national conservatory leaders — met for the field trip on the plateau. The event was aimed at increasing collaboration and communication between all those that serve and research the state’s forests. “We need to improve collaboration between fire science and those who manage the fires on the ground,” said Jim Free of the Uncompahgre Partnership. Event participants included those from governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the state Department of Wildlife. Representatives from the office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall also attended, as well as representatives from the local Uncompahgre Partnership project, CSU professors and graduate students.

With an array of vegetation zones, the plateau provides an example of different management approaches as one climbs in elevation, Gann said. Discussions among the officials dealt with how agencies can determine the desired conditions and management approaches in the state’s forests using science and research. From a science standpoint, understanding the ecology of an area helps management of that area go in the right direction, the Nature Conservancy’s Merrill Kaufmann said.”Good stewardship, and good ecology, often means realizing that many of today’s forest are not natural at all. Here the scientific community can help,” states information from the program provided by the U.S. Forest Service. Professor Dan Binkley studies the ecology of forests at CSU, but he wasn’t present just to share his knowledge of forest history — he was also there to learn. “Everyone here is learning something new,” he said. Binkley said that though he studies forest ecology, he doesn’t know much about forest birds or fire behavior. And that was the goal of the field trip — to allow local experts to learn from other local experts so that collaboration and communication can strengthen the health of forests. That kind of collaboration has had positive results.

The Uncompahgre Partnership, a restoration project, was recently funded by the federal government. It addresses 160,000 acres of landscape-scale fuels and restoration projects that not only protect the forest by reducing fuels and supporting natural fires but also create jobs. The entire project spans 572,00 acres of Forest Service lands within a 1 million-acre landscape. The project addresses biomass, power line fuel treatments, broadcast burning, treatment of noxious weeds and reseeding native plants. It also tackles such issues as water quality, water yield and stream habitat enhancement. More information on the project can be found at “One thing we’ve done well here is connect healthy landscapes with healthy communities,” Gann said. “We’ve made strong efforts, though it’s taken 15 years, to educate people on the value of taking care of public lands.”