Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wildfire risk throws a wrench in Colorado roadless debate

David O. Williams in the American Independent: Concern about an early and potentially explosive wildfire season in Colorado has fanned the flames of debate over how far into the national forest crews should build temporary roads to clear trees and reduce the fuel load around towns.

The release last week of another draft of the controversial Colorado Roadless Rule further fueled the controversy. The rule would allow temporary road building a half mile into the national forest surrounding communities and tree thinning without roads another mile into the forest.

Colorado conservation groups have opposed the Forest Service allowing such wide latitude for fuel reduction projects, arguing a much smaller defensible space around communities is adequate in the event of forest fires and that large-scale thinning doesn’t do much to mitigate fire risk. Some scientists say road building actually degrades forest health, causing erosion and doing little to prevent wildfire in the wake of the state’s ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic. Some studies back up that school of thought.

But regional forester Rick Cables, speaking in defense of the Colorado Roadless Rule (pdf) last week, said the half-mile fuel-treatment exemption for road building was the result of years of discussion. “We had some meetings over the past few years with scientists, firefighters, incident commanders, specialists of all kinds to struggle with what would be appropriate, that would afford the degree of protection we think is necessary but also protect roadless values,” Cables said. He was asked if the half-mile exemption would be enough given Colorado’s steep and daunting terrain and the ferocity of recent fires.

“We believe that there’s the ability to do the treatment necessary to change the fuel composition, which would change the fire behavior and give us the opportunity to do the fire suppression necessary with the provisions in this rule,” Cables said….

Beetle-killed lodgepole pines north of Breckenridge, Colorado, shot by RadRafe

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