U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
In 2000, the Colorado Legislature authorized counties to create county-wide wildland fire management plans. These plans include county, state, private and federal lands where landowners and managers are willing to cooperate on wildland fire management. The BLM supports the effort by providing maps, information, technical assistance, and financial support. The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS), Colorado Counties Inc., and the BLM sponsors fire planning workshops for county commissioners, sheriffs, fire chiefs, and county planners. Most Colorado counties where the BLM manages significant acreage have completed, or are working on, county wildfire protection plans.
County fire plans serve many purposes; one of the most important is identifying communities and other values-at-risk from wildfire and setting priorities for mitigating those threats. When a community or neighborhood is identified as a priority, the BLM directs its resources to developing plans to reduce the fire threat on public lands in the vicinity of community values-at-risk. Meanwhile, the CSFS works with the American Red Cross, sheriffs, local Offices of Emergency Management, and local fire departments to organize educational programs to encourage fire hazard mitigation on private lands. The BLM provides technical and financial assistance to support these community fire education programs.
After a county fire plan identifies at-risk communities and sets mitigation priorities, the next step is preparing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The CWPP assesses wildfire threats to a neighborhood or community and the surrounding landscape. It also locates and determines the specific vegetation management, road improvements, water sources, warning systems, evacuation routes, necessary changes to buildings to make them less flammable, fire department preparedness, and other actions needed to reduce the threat of wildfires. The CSFS takes the lead in community wildfire protection planning, but the county fire mitigation specialist, sheriff, American Red Cross, rural fire department, or other organization may also carry out the actual planning. In each case, the BLM collaborates in the planning effort and provides technical advice on fire ecology, vegetation management, and community fire preparedness, as well as offering financial assistance to communities. When possible, the BLM involves community residents and stakeholders in data collection and fire planning analysis on neighboring public lands.
Vegetation management projects may be planned across public and private lands in ways adapted to the topography and fuels. Typically, this kind of planning reduces costs and provides protection from wildfire. In some cases where public lands will also benefit, the BLM may share the cost of vegetation treatments on private land and provide technical assistance in project planning. In Colorado, the BLM’s policy is to use the priorities established in the county wildfire management plans to guide the selection and prioritization of fuels management projects on public lands.
The Emergency Stabilization and Burned Area Rehabilitation (ES&R) program focuses on mitigating the impacts wildland fires have on ecosystems and communities. Wildfires, regardless of size, that have the potential of significant damage to a natural or cultural resource require ES&R.
On average, BLM initiates ES&R treatments on six to 10 fires annually. Given our extensive wildland urban interface (WUI), problems with invasive species (e.g. cheat grass), and rugged terrain, most stabilization issues involve planning, soil stabilization (e.g. seeding of native plants) to prevent erosion, and construction of temporary fences and closures to prevent further damage from public use.
Managing wildland fire in the 21st Century
The 21st century began with a long and costly wildfire season matched only by the fire season of 1910. The 1910 fire season in the Northern Rockies launched organized fire management on public lands. The terrible destruction of the 1910 fires motivated a century of aggressive wildland firefighting that sought to extinguish every wildfire as quickly as possible. Like the 1910 fires, the fires of 2000, and subsequent seasons, mark a tipping point in public perceptions of fire in the wildlands. Major changes have been made in national fire management policy; which are reflected in the National Fire Plan and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2004, which mandates that:
Fire planning and management be done for landscapes that make sense from a fire behavior and fire ecology perspective. This means planning in close collaboration with neighboring landowners and local governments to create a common plan and share in its implementation across jurisdictional boundaries.
Vegetation (fuels) management should play at least as important a role in fire and smoke management as does firefighting efforts.
In the Wildland Urban Interface, the federal agencies will work closely with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and communities-at-risk to mitigate the fire threat on both public and private lands, and to increase the safety of life and property.
The federal agencies will work with the CSFS to improve rural fire department training and equipment so communities can play a larger role in protecting themselves from wildfire. Rural fire departments will be integrated into all levels of wildland fire management from fire prevention and education to hazard mitigation and prescribed fire.
Fire will be restored where possible to protect and enhance the values those landscapes provide for the public. Fire is an essential part of most wildland ecosystems. Unless wildlands burn periodically, few wildland ecosystems can sustain themselves over time.
To the extent possible, fire mitigation and restoration efforts will be done to increase the economic opportunities for local communities and to find valuable uses for the removed vegetation.
In the 21st century, fire managers are more engaged with local governments, neighboring landowners, and other stakeholders than in the past. The public can expect more contact with federal fire managers, more opportunities to be involved in planning for fire management on public and private lands, and the chance to take a more active role in protecting communities and restoring wildland health.
BLM Colorado is proud of the work fire and other resource managers have accomplished during the past several years and looks forward to meeting future challenges through cooperation and collaboration with state and local governments, community associations, non-government organizations and the general public.