How the shutdown is affecting wildfire mitigation efforts

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FORT COLLINS — The government shutdown is disrupting wildlife mitigation efforts used to protect our forests and mountain communities.

The Colorado State Forest Service works closely with federal agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service. With Forest Service employees currently furloughed, certain projects aren’t being done.

“On the federal side of things, where they`re doing some of their burns, you just don`t have the troops in the field to get it done,” explained Mike Lester, Director of the Colorado State Forest Service.

In Colorado alone, there are roughly 24 million acres of forest land. The Federal Government manages about 16 million of those acres.

“Roughly 65%,” Lester said.

This time of year, federal and state forest workers do pile burns. Pile burns include burning brush, trees and other fuels collected throughout the year. Winter is the ideal time to do it because the snow makes burning safe.

“I think the last time we looked at them there are roughly 2,000 piles out there,” Lester said.

So, how could this affect the upcoming wildfire season?

“There will be areas where they [federal forest workers] could have been removing fuels and making a fire not a catastrophic wildfire, but a low to moderate intensity wildfire. Those areas just won`t be done,” Lester said.

Lester added it’s a tough position to be in given the partnership the state has with the federal agencies.

“Those partnerships are key. And when you`re missing a partnership, it`s difficult to get the work done,” Lester said.

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