Over the next few months, expect smoke on the horizon in Dolores County, as the Bureau of Land Management sets a series of low-intensity prescribed burns.
The West Rim Pines Project will treat 600 acres of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak forests along the rim of the Dolores Canyon seven miles east of Dove Creek.
The planned burns consist of 20 units and will be conducted as conditions allow. They are part of a larger BLM project to reduce hazardous fuels and improve wildlife habitat.
“We are re-introducing fire to a fire-adapted ecosystem that has not seen fire in a long time,” said Chris Barth, public information officer for the BLM’s Southwest Fire District. “Burns have multiple objectives. They improve forest health and protect the public from the potential of larger fires.”
Cooler temperatures and wetter conditions favor prescribed burns this time of year, he said. Crews anticipate introducing fire to eight units as early as this week. Once conditions are ideal, they use drip torches to ignite the forest floor.
“The burn plan contains specific criteria regarding weather conditions and air quality that must be met to ensure control of the burn and to minimize smoke impacts to local communities,” said BLM Fire Management Specialist Ian Barrett.
The low-intensity fires reduce forest litter and knock back “ladder fuels” that contribute to catastrophic crown fires.
“In areas treated by prescribed burns, if a fire does come through in the future it has less risk of becoming a large wildfire,” Barth said.
The treatment also protects wildland-urban interface communities, provides fire breaks for future fires, improves big game and sage grouse habitat, and helps range conditions.
“Fire feeds nutrients into the soil and reduces over story, allowing sunlight in so different plant species can grow,” Barth said.
The BLM has obtained smoke permits from the Colorado State Air Pollution Control Division, which identify atmospheric conditions under which the burns can be implemented.
The prescribed burns may be completed through the fall, and will be monitored once completed to ensure public safety. While smoke may be visible in the area at times, most of the smoke will lift and dissipate during the warmest parts of the day. Smoke may be visible in the area for several days after each burn is completed as vegetation in the interior continues to smolder.
Signs will warn forest visitors of the prescribed burns in progress. There are no road or forest closures planned because of the project.
The San Juan Forest’s Dolores District is also planning prescribed burns in the coming months. District Ranger Derek Padilla reports 3,000 acres of prescribed burns are planned in the coming months.
If conditions warrant, the burns will take place in September and possibly October in Lost Canyon north of Summit Reservoir, Doe Canyon, Carver Canyon, in the Glade area near the guard station, and around Carlisle Point.
Padilla said the goal is to ramp up prescribed burns in the area with a target of burning 3,000 to 6,000 acres per year.
“We need to address the high fuel levels out there,” he said.
In early September, about 1,200 acres will be burned by hand crews over five to seven days. The goal is reduce slash left from a previous timber sale and reduce the buildup of natural fuels. Smoke will be visible from Colorado Highway 184 between Dolores and Mancos, as well as from Cortez. Smoke may settle into low-lying areas near the burn overnight.
Another prescribed burn will take place 11 miles north of Dolores, near Trimble Point south of the intersection of Forest roads 514 and 523. Hand and aerial ignition methods will be used for two to four days to ignite 1,500 acres in an area previously burned in 2007. The goal is to reduce ground litter by mimicking historic fire-return intervals.
Smoke may be visible from the Dolores and Ground Hog Reservoir areas, and smoke may settle into the McPhee Reservoir overnight. District fire managers also plan to ignite by hand up to 900 acres of logging slash over the course of one week in the Doe Canyon area a mile west of the intersection of Forest Roads 504 and 506 about 10 miles east of Dove Creek. Smoke will be visible from U.S. Highway 491 between Dove Creek and Pleasant View and may settle overnight into those areas.
Prescribed burning is conducted to reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfire, while providing conditions for regular follow-up burns to be conducted more efficiently and safely. For more information on the prescribed burn, contact the Dolores Ranger District at 970 882-7296.