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  • Tom McCracken

Wildfire Prevention

NOAA says 40% chance of precipitation today. That used to mean we are going to get wet. Lately though the wind seems to blow the clouds away and we are lucky to see virga through the dust. We are in a Mega-Drought, and it is not likely to get better as CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise.

Living in close proximity to the forest and grasslands requires us to take action to mitigate the risk of wildfire. We do not want to see our forests go up in flames, and we do not want fire to threaten our homes. The County should continue to work closely with the USFS, BLM and FWS on this issue.

Controlled burning is being used to mimic natural fire events that would have occurred in the past had we not suppressed fire for the last 100 years. Many factors are involved but the end result is that many our forests have reached a climax stage all at the same time leading to an invasion of insects that have killed most of the old growth trees that were near the end of their life cycle. A healthy forest includes different species and different age trees growing together with a minimum of flammable undergrowth.

During my travels in the backcountry I have observed that in areas that had been logged 20-50 years ago, the trees that were left as seed sources have now died. These areas have existing roads that could be used again. I think we should go back in these areas and harvest these dead trees before they all fall over and potentially burn, killing the young living understory. These dead trees are a valuable resource and could be stockpiled for future use. Grant or stimulus funds could be used to accomplish this.

In the Baca and Crestone work is being done to prune dead branches from the Pinon and Juniper near the roads and I understand around the North and East sides of the populated area. They have been doing a great job so far, but what about fire raging across the grasslands? Something needs to be done about the dead grasses and vegetation left from a previous year.

I believe that Intensive Grazing could be used as one of a few different means of creating a “Fire Break” around the South and West boundaries of the Baca and Crestone, and within the open space areas. This method of livestock grazing mimics large herds of wild animals that were tightly packed due to predators lurking on the edges of the herd. These animals trampled the grasses, both incorporating the vegetation into the soil, and planting the seeds. The native grasses evolved alongside these animals and now that there are no more large herds, or predators, man must replicate this process.

This type of management is more expensive and labor intensive than the typical methods that have been used over the years, methods that lead to grassland degradation and weed invasions. But as they say, a penny spent on prevention can save a pound of cure.

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