Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service specialists recommend mitigation measures to counter the risk of fire in the Dolores River Basin, including Dolores and West Fork.
“We’ve mapped where the landscape will benefit from fire, and where it could be threatened,” said Brad Pietruszka, a BLM fire specialist.
Pietruszka presented results of a risk assessment during Dolores Watershed and Resilient Forests’ monthly meeting Jan. 4 after using a computer model to simulate wildfires in the basin.
The model starts fires at random, then lets them play out based on inputs such as forest type, burn probability, landscape, and historical weather and fire data.
“About two-thirds of the landscape benefits from fire, and about one-third is threatened by fire,” Pietruszka said.
The highest risk was assigned to neighborhoods and towns near large forested areas such as Boggy Draw, West Fork, The Glade, Groundhog, Upper Dolores River neighborhoods, and the towns of Dolores and Rico.
“At some point, there could be a very large fire that impacts a lot of private land,” Pietruszka said. “The study’s conclusion is to mitigate fire hazards on private land as much as possible.”
In fire-manager parlance, these areas are known as wildland urban interface (WUI) zones, said Rebecca Samulski, assistant director for Colorado Firewise and a board member of new group Dolores Watershed and Resilient Forests (DWARF).
“Instead of DUI checkpoints, we’re trying to get fire departments to do WUI checkpoints at the entrances of at-risk neighborhoods,” she said. “Fire officials could hand out information on wildfire protection measures.”
The computer model shows power lines through the forest are susceptible to damage from wildfires. The group agreed that the far-reaching value of power lines makes those areas a priority for protection and forest mitigation, such as forest thinning and adequate buffer zones.
While the model does not include the cause of simulated fires, power lines damaged by falling trees could spark a forest fire.
A major power line tracks across the forested Boggy Draw area north of Dolores and across the Lower Dolores River.
“Fires can be started by trees falling into power lines,” said David Casey, a forester with the San Juan National Forest, so an adequate buffer zone is essential.
Sediment loading from fires into the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir is a concern for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, added general manager Mike Preston.
“We would like to identify areas that pose that risk and conduct restoration activities,” he said.
Samulski said a post-fire sediment and erosion model for the Dolores River Basin will be presented soon.
At the next DWARF meeting, Jim Worrall, a Forest Service pathologist from Gunnison, will give a presentation on the future of forest health in the face of climate change. The meeting is Feb. 1, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy office, 60 Cactus St. in Cortez.
To find out more about mitigating wildfire threats near your home or subdivision, check out the Firewise of Southwest Colorado website at www.southwestcoloradofires.org/, or call (970) 564-7860.