A wildfire forecast and the status of commercial logging were discussed at a Dolores Public Lands forum put on by Firewise of Montezuma County.
The educational event was in honor of fire ambassadors in the Elk Springs and Elk Stream subdivisions in Mancos for their award-winning wildfire mitigation work.
“They educated themselves and took action as a neighborhood to effectively reduce wildfire risks,” said Firewise coordinator Rebecca Samulski.
While private communities do their part, the forum focused on wildfire mitigation efforts by Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest.
The forest’s mission balances environmental preservation with commercial timber harvest more than in the past, explained Dolores District ranger Derek Padilla.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, the thought was to get the timber out and that’s it,” he said. “Now we work to provide timber products but insure the health and diversity of the forest as well.”
A history of too much fire suppression has left the forests overstocked and more prone to unnaturally large wildfires. The plan is to use commercial logging as a tool to help thin overstocked stands, but relative low value of pine trees and lack of local large-scale mills for pine make that a challenge.
“The big conundrum with pine is it costs (loggers) more to remove than they can make,” said timber manager David Case. “There is a lot of value in loggers to mitigate fuels, otherwise costs go through the roof.”
Finding a viable pine market for commercial loggers is seen as a better solution for thinning than having the forest service do the job, which costs between $500 and $1,200 per acre.
Forest incentive programs reserve revenues from more profitable aspen sales to supplement pay for loggers to remove the less valuable pine wood. Processing pines for bio-char to produce energy is a potential new market.
The Dolores District is looking into offering more timber sales of spruce and fir on Stoner and Taylor Mesas to supply a commercial mill in Montrose.
Wildfire forecastThe wildfire outlook for the Dolores District is average due to the winters good snowpack, said fire management officer Pat Seekins.
The district typically gets between 30 and 40 wildfires per year, mostly caused by lightening. Last year, there were 18 fires on local forest and BLM lands. If deemed safe, some wildfires are allowed to burn to naturally thin the forest.
The forest uses advanced weather systems that track every lightening strike in real time, then those areas are closely monitored for wildfires.
Also for the first time in five years the Benchmark Lookout west of Lone Mesa State Park will be staffed for the upcoming fire season.
The area is seen as drier than the rest of the state, and therefore has Helitack crews based in Towaoc, Mesa Verde National Park, and Durango, plus three BLM Single Engine Air Tankers operating out of Cortez and Durango airports.