The High Country News recently talked with Jack Cohen, a research physical fire scientist with the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, about why homes burn in wildfires. Drawing on many years of experience, Cohen discusses the importance of sociopolitical factors in home protection. Cohen stresses the need for homeowners to properly mitigate before a wildfire strikes, and the need for all of us to adapt to fire-prone landscapes.
As climate change talks in Paris ramp up, discussions about the international impacts of our changing climate are being highlighted. The interactions between a more unpredictable climate and our forests are a topic of intense study as nations around the world observe changes in different types of forests. Climate change and the catastrophic wildfire written on the PLOS Ecology blog provides an overview of some of the impacts we can likely expect as climate change progresses. A brief excerpt follows:
Climate change has and will continue to increase the severity and frequency of ecological disturbance due to fire. Beyond this, climate change is also affecting natural species distributions and exotic species invasions. The co-occurrence of increased fire due to climate change and increased invasions due to climate change may sometimes be disastrous. In western North America, pine bark beetles are ravaging populations of pine trees across several mountain ranges. These beetles caused disturbances in the past but the current epidemic is an order of magnitude worse than prior invasions. Recent research suggests that this increase in severity is due to the increase in air temperature in these mountain ranges. Pine bark beetles reproduce during summer months when the temperature is warm in the northern hemisphere.
The Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network will conduct two prescribed fire projects this fall in the Woodland Park area. The Sourdough and North Catamount burns are scheduled to take place in mid to late October, exact dates will depend on weather conditions.
Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network is a collaborative group established to bring local and regional partners together to collectively identify and implement strategies for the safe, effective and appropriate use of fire for forest management.
“Prescribed fire is a highly effective land management tool that can greatly minimize the risk of unnaturally large and damaging wildfires, while improving wildlife habitat and strengthening the health of our landscapes and watersheds,” said Jason Lawhon, Fire Manager for the Colorado Nature Conservancy. “The Fire Learning Network brings together community members and fire and land management professionals to learn from each burn experience.”
The Sourdough prescribed burn will take place over a 14.8 acre area located north of Woodland Park. It will occur on private property off of Sourdough road just south of the Manitou Experimental Forest. Organized primarily through the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, North East Teller Fire and The Nature Conservancy, the goals of the project are to reduce hazardous fire fuels and increase understory grass and plant recovery after a previous forest thinning project.
The burn will take place any time after October 12. The exact date will depend on weather and fuel conditions. There will be one day of burning and crews will remain on scene for multiple days after the burn to monitor the fire until it is completely extinguished.
“Without prescribed fire, we as a society cannot hope to achieve the goals of forest resiliency, community protection, and watershed health,” said Jonathan Bruno, Chief Operation Officer of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte. “These are all critical to protecting people, property, and ecosystems.”
The North Catamount prescribed burn will take place on a 105 acre area located on the Colorado Springs Utilities’ North Slope Watershed near the North Catamount Reservoir. Colorado Springs Utilities is the lead Network member on this project with goals of protecting water supply and infrastructure in its watersheds as well as improving forest heath and reducing fuels.
The burn is scheduled to take place any time after October 18 depending on conditions. There will be 1 to 2 days of burning with crews on the scene for multiple days after monitoring until it is completely extinguished.
“Over the past 20 years, multiple fuel reduction projects have been completed on the North Slope using hand crews and other mechanical techniques,” said Eric Howell, Colorado Springs Utilities Forest Program Manager. “Over time, however, wildfire conditions have increased. We can help mitigate risks effectively and safely through the implementation of prescribed fire.”
Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network is actively working with Colorado Air Pollution and Control Division to manage potential smoke impacts from the burns. When a controlled burn is implemented, it is conducted under very specific parameters laid out after years of planning. Daily weather conditions play a key role in whether a burn can be accomplished or not. The project fire managers will be evaluating conditions and forecasted weather to make the best decision on when to initiate these burns.
The Network is working to make sure that community members are kept abreast of information regarding these burns and hope to address any concerns and questions. Once the exact dates of the burns are known, the media and public will be notified. Up to date information will also be disseminated through the Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network twitter account, @Pikespeak_FLN with related hashtags, #SourdoughRX and #CatamountRX.
The Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network is a group of stakeholders working together to foster the safe and appropriate use of fire as a management tool for reducing wildfire risks to communities, restoring forest resilience and enabling people and nature to better adapt to and co-exist with fire. More information can be found at www.pikespeakfln.org
Read news stories about the upcoming prescribed burns:
Mark your calendar for the 2015 Colorado Wildland Fire Conference: Creating Fire Adapted Communities. The conference will be held in Snowmass, CO from September 24-26 with the goal of bringing together fire and emergency services professionals with community leaders, planners, realtors, insurance industry and others to look at how to reduce wildfire risk in our communities. Learn more and register today!
Video 1 of 6: The Impetus for Ecological Restoration
Video 2 of 6: Expected Benefits and Outcomes of Restoration
Video 3 of 6: Key Elements of Southwestern Frequent Fire Forests
Video 4 of 6: Considerations for Implementation of the Management Framework
Video 5 of 6: Ecological Restoration over Space and Time
Colorado’s wet spring caused rapid growth of grasses and shrubs, which can quickly dry out and become fuel for fire as it heats up across the state. So even with a record-setting wet May, Colorado is looking at the possibility of significant fires this year.
In drought-ridden states across the West, this year’s wildfire season is even more daunting. The U.S. Forest Service continues to worry about having enough funds to fight wildfire. Borrowing funds from proactive wildfire mitigation programs to fight fires has become routine. This practice reduces the West’s resiliency to fire and ability to implement programs that improve long-term forest health. Policy fixes have been proposed but have yet to pass.