‘Fire is important. Fire is necessary.’

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‘Fire is important. Fire is necessary.’

Periodic wildfire plays an integral role in forest health
Strike crew leader John Henry, from Lassen National Forest, discusses the necessity of fire for forest ecology while standing in Weber Canyon on Thursday, June 28.

‘Fire is important. Fire is necessary.’

Strike crew leader John Henry, from Lassen National Forest, discusses the necessity of fire for forest ecology while standing in Weber Canyon on Thursday, June 28.
Roberts wants statewide fire plan

Sitting in a hard plastic chair in the Mancos High School performing arts center Monday evening, state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, struggled not to cry when talking about the impact of fire on individual lives.
Roberts is intimately acquainted with the fierce power and horrible consequences of wildfire. Ten years ago, Roberts and her family watched the Missionary Ridge fire burn closer and closer to their home. For two weeks they dealt with the stress of a pre-evacuation notice followed by a harrowing week of evacuation, wondering whether their home had survived the fire. The home survived, but Roberts has not forgotten the lessons learned by the residents of Durango that year
A decade later, and now a state senator, Roberts is hoping the devastating fires that have ravaged Colorado this year will impart some of the same lessons to her colleagues in the Legislature and begin to bring change to forest management in the state.
“In Durango, we got a huge wake-up call 10 years ago and now the Front Range is getting that same wake-up call this year,” Roberts said. “We are seeing the consequences of the poor health of our forests and we really need a statewide policy change in terms of management to deal with the fire issues we are seeing.”
Though other areas of the state have been victims of fire, Roberts said it is always curious to her when Front Range legislators and residents don’t see the need for policy change. The answer, she said, often comes down to numbers.
“I wonder why, 10 years later, we haven’t changed anything about how we manage the forest and how we confront fire risk,” Roberts said. “Then I realize it is because only 12 percent of the population lives in these rural areas that see these issues and 88 percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo.”
This year, Front Range urban-dwellers have become closely acquainted with wildfire, as the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires consumed more than 106,000 acres of forest. Unlike the local Weber Fire, from which all major structures were saved and no one was injured, the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires consumed 605 homes and killed three people. That is in addition to this year’s early fire, the Lower North Fork Fire, which destroyed or damaged 23 homes and also killed three people.
Roberts called it a “hard and tragic education.”
“In a short time, the state has learned how mismanagement can have catastrophic ramifications,” Roberts said.
Roberts was tapped to chair a panel investigating the Lower North Fork Fire, a state prescribed burn that blossomed out of control. Recommendations from the panel, including possible legislation, are due by the end of the year, according to The Denver Post. Roberts said the confluence of the formation of the panel and the massive fires burning in the state have created a situation where perhaps action can be taken.
Specifically, Roberts hopes prescribed burns will take a much more prominent place in forest management techniques, noting they are an “essential tool in land management.” She said the U.S. Forest Service has been in discussions with the state regarding the relaxation of air quality requirements to allow for more prescribed burning.
However, devastating fires will continue to burn with a consensus that action must be taken, Roberts said.
“It takes political will to move forward,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we’ve had that before but I think this year may be the catalyst to bring about that change. People have to understand that Mother Nature will do this if we don’t do this for ourselves.“

Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]