Forest thinning slows fires, increases concerns

  Not only did forest thinning slow the spread of last summer’s Hayman Fire in Colorado, it helped prevent subsequent damage from erosion, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service (HCN, 7/8/02: The anatomy of fire).

The blaze, which was the largest fire in Colorado history, slowed when it hit the sites of two large “fuels-reduction” projects, one an 8,000-acre prescribed burn, the other a 1,500-acre timber sale and thinning project, says Ted Moore, fire-management officer with the Pike-San Isabel National Forest and the Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands. He explains that needles on most ponderosa pines in thinned areas did not burn; when they fell to the ground later, they provided ground cover that cut erosion 40 percent.

Now, the Forest Service is planning to step up the pace of its fuels-reduction projects in the Pike-San Isabel, where the Hayman Fire occurred, says Moore. Forest officials have developed a Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership for forests in eastern Colorado, and requested an additional $4 million to $6 million this year.

Conservationists support fuels-reduction programs in the “wildland-urban interface” along the Front Range, says Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society in Denver. “Thinning” projects farther from civilization have raised concerns, however. The Forest Service is conducting many thinning projects deep in the backcountry under the guise of fuels reduction, Jones says. “We have a concern where the Forest Service is using the public’s fear of fire to do broad-scale logging in the backcountry.”

For information on the Hayman Fire and recovery, visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/.
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