Boulder County braces for another intense wildfire season through extensive community projects

Local News

A motorist is turned away from a roadblock along Highway 36 as several wildfires burn in the state, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, north of Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) – Scientists are predicting another intense wildfire season similar to the one in 2020.

With that in mind, Boulder County says it is boosting its investment and work with partners and communities to prepare for large, long-duration wildfires occurring at higher elevations and in different vegetation types than previously seen.

The Calwood Fire (October 2020) burned over 10,000 acres in Boulder County, the largest in county history, while the Cameron Peak fire 15 miles north of the Boulder County line burned over 200,000 acres — the largest in Colorado history.

Boulder County Fireshed

A coalition of federal, state, county and municipal agencies are working closely with Boulder County nonprofits to meet with communities and prioritize areas for treatments. The coalition aims to ensure county forests will be healthier and better able to withstand the effects of wildfire.

Health and community protection efforts

St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership

Partners of the Boulder County Fireshed have numerous forest health and community protection efforts underway. One participant includes the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership.

The St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership is collaborating with community members in forest restoration. The 625,000-acre St. Vrain Watershed will prepare the land and the community to receive wildland fire as a natural part of the ecosystem.

In the heart of this watershed, Button Rock Preserve is the primary water source for 100,000 domestic water users in the county and provides regional recreation to over 60,000 visitors annually. The watershed includes Allenspark, Lyons and the City of Longmont, which are all participating in the partnership.

Boulder Watershed Collective

The Boulder Watershed Collective is working with communities, fire districts and agency partners within the Boulder Creek Watershed.

The collective hopes to increase its knowledge about forest ecology and wildfire adapted ecosystems, build capacity within communities to plan and implement more forestry projects across land ownership and identify gaps to reduce wildfire risk at the community and landscape scale.

The town of Gold Hill, the Gold Hill Fire District, Boulder Valley Conservation District, and the Colorado State Forest Service are working together to begin a 100-acre forest restoration project this summer. The town has used this project to galvanize momentum for future project planning and are taking a community-oriented approach to completing home hardening and defensible space on private properties.

City of Boulder

The city is implementing projects at multiple scales to address the risks of wildfire to the community. After the 2020 fire season, the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks department has dedicated additional budget in 2021 to increase staffing and expand thinning efforts to address wildfire risk in the city’s wildland-urban interface.

The city has plans to thin over 200 acres in the Shanahan Ridge, Chautauqua and Sunshine Canyon areas during 2021. This is in addition to the over 2,000 acres of thinning completed in past years.

Within city limits, the Boulder Fire Department’s Wildland Division has a Wildfire Home Assessment Program that can help property owners identify risks and mitigate threats on their private property.

On a broader scale, the City Utilities Department is working on larger collaborative forest health projects to address fire risk in the Middle Boulder Creek Watershed to protect drinking water supplies for Boulder and Nederland.

City of Longmont

The City of Longmont is currently performing a 40-acre forest stewardship thinning project in Button Rock Preserve just west of Ralph Price Reservoir.

Ralph Price Reservoir is the primary source of drinking water for the communities of Lyons and Longmont. This forestry project is a continuation of a multi-decade effort to improve forest health in the Button Rock area, protect the North St. Vrain watershed and reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Wood harvested during this project will be utilized in aerial mulching in the CalWood Fire burn area in coordination with Boulder County and other agency partners.

Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS)

On May 10, the CSFS officially launched The Home Ignition Zone (HIZ), which is a guide to prepare homes for wildfire and create defensible space. The HIZ takes into account both the potential of the home or structure to ignite and the quality of nearby defensible space.

The CSFS also is developing forest management plans with landowners in the St. Vrain and Coal Creek Watersheds in a project funded by the US Department of Agriculture through the American Forest Foundation. CSFS is additionally partnering with the Boulder Watershed Collective, Gold Hill residents and others to help reduce wildfire risk to that community.

Roosevelt National Forest, Boulder Ranger District

The National Forest is participating in the collaborative efforts of the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership and the Boulder Watershed Collective, from attending public outreach events across the county this summer to coordinating areas where adjacent private and public lands might both benefit from some forest health improvements.

As part of this effort, the National Forest, in partnership with Boulder County Wildfire Partners, recently outreached to residents who are interested in creating defensible space around their homes and is now processing 13 applications from neighbors that will allow them to remove trees along their National Forest boundaries.

In addition to 400 acres of prescribed pile burning across the district over the past winter and spring, the forest will complete thinning projects across nearly 600 acres associated with the Forsythe II Project this summer.

This work will reduce the density of trees in thickly forested stands while also enhancing aspen. These types of projects are important in helping the remaining trees thrive, while returning the forest to a more fire-resilient condition.

Finally, the forest is actively engaging with partners to plan and implement fire recovery efforts on both the Calwood and Lefthand Fires.

Boulder County

Calwood Fire recovery efforts are fully underway with funding from the Emergency Watershed Protection program from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Aerial wood mulching on about 1,700 acres is being completed in order to decrease the chances of erosion and debris flows, while flooding/debris mitigation structures will be built to minimize damages from increased run off.

The county, through its Parks and Open Space (BCPOS) department, is gearing up to complete a 100-acre thinning project on the Sherwood Gulch property west of Nederland.

BCPOS is also applying for grant funding to complete 76 acres of treatment at Hall Ranch adjacent to a 40-acre project planned by the City of Longmont. BCPOS in cooperation with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is planning on completing prescribed fire on up to 350 acres at Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain and has 800+ acres earmarked for prescribed fire at Hall Ranch over the next few years.

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