The Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo Field Office and an interagency coalition have partnered with the Powder River Properties subdivision to address hazardous fuels in and adjoining the subdivision. Agencies involved include: BLM, Wyoming State Forestry, Johnson County Wildland Fire Mitigation Coordinator office, Johnson County Fire District, and US Forest Service (USFS).
Powder River Properties (PRP) subdivision is located in southwest Johnson County, Wyo. The scenic subdivision is nestled in Bighorn Mountains at an elevation of 8500 feet and overlooks the North Fork of Powder River valley and Dull Knife Reservoir. Subdivision lots and cabin sites and subdivision access roads were carved from dense stands of “doghair” lodgepole pine forest having high volumes of dead and down fuels.
In an effort to maintain the scenic value of the property, the subdivision developer encouraged subdivision property owners to form a property owners association and enact covenants governing development of property within the subdivision. In one of their first association meetings, the group discussed the condition of the forest stands and the need to improve the defensibility of their property from wildland fire.
In early 2003, property owners approached District Forester Mike Hoestetler, to inquire about forest management and hazardous fuel treatments. Hoestetler worked with individual property owners to conduct a hazardous fuels assessment and prepare a mitigation plan. The hazardous fuels assessment and mitigation plan were completed in the fall of 2004.
An important aspect of the mitigation plan was recognition that hazardous fuels did not stop at the subdivision boundary. Hazardous fuels extended onto land administered by BLM on the west, and to the north by both Wyoming State Land Trust and the US Forest Service. Early in 2005, representatives from each of the agencies met with individual property owners to discuss a coordinated approach to addressing the hazardous fuel situation.
The interagency group had worked together previously in developing the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for Johnson County and were familiar with the hazardous fuels issues associated with the subdivision. CWPP identified the PRP subdivision as part of the county’s number two priority for hazardous fuels. In late 2005, the interagency group organized themselves as the Johnson County Fire Mitigation Committee. This committee consisted of representatives from the agencies mentioned previously and added representatives from the City of Buffalo and Johnson County Emergency Services.
The Mitigation Committee led by the County Fire Mitigation Coordinator, Jim Shell, focused their efforts on providing education on firewise planning through meeting with individual property owners and sponsoring a one day workshop. The Mitigation Committee also continued to coordinate individual agencies’ plans for hazardous fuels mitigation work.
As a result, BLM and Wyoming State Forestry agreed to design fuel breaks on their lands. The fuel breaks would achieve the agencies forest health and resource management objectives and reinforce the mitigation work in the subdivision. BLM also moved forward with plans to conduct a broadcast prescribed fire on land adjacent to the subdivision.
USFS initiated planning to design visual resource sensitive fuel mitigation treatments on the National Forest that would enhance the work planned on adjoining off forest property. The Forest Service also agreed to authorize use of existing roads for removal of forest products from the State and BLM land.
By the fall of 2005, landowners had started to implement hazardous fuels mitigation treatments recommended in the Mitigation Plan. Property owners contracted with a local sawmill that used mechanized equipment that cut, limbed, and sorted the commercial products harvested to create fuel breaks and defensible space at cabin sites. The logger used a forwarding skidder to move logs to the landing sites where log trucks picked them up. This harvest process maximized the volume of material removed while reducing the time required for completing the logging operation and the amount of surface disturbance to the forest.
In the fall of 2005, BLM initiated implementation of a prescribed burn on public lands adjacent to the subdivision. Management objectives of the 80 acre prescribed fire were to reduce conifer encroachment into the sagebrush site, stimulate aspen regeneration, improve forage and habitat conditions for wildlife, and reduce hazardous fuels in the urban interface. Initial post treatment monitoring indicates that we are meeting these objectives.
In 2006, BLM scheduled fuel break work on public lands adjacent to the subdivision. Objectives were to design the fuel breaks in a visually sensitive manner that would accomplish both forestry and hazardous fuels management objectives. Fuel breaks were laid out so that they anchored at the edge of natural meadow openings and contoured to tie into the fuel breaks on adjacent state and private properties. The fuel breaks are also designed to stimulate aspen regeneration by removing competing conifer trees from remnant aspen stands.
Cindy Allen, BLM’s forester completed an inventory of the proposed fuel break areas to determine the volume of forest products available. The eleven acre fuel breaks were found to have a volume of about 31,000 board feet (31 MBF) of which 21 MBF were post and pole and 10 MBF sawtimber. Given the relatively small volumes involved on BLM, Cindy worked closely with the Wyoming State Forester to coordinate the fuel break work on BLM with work planned on the adjacent state property.
In the summer of 2006, BLM offered the fuel work as a stewardship contract where the value of the forest products was offered to offset the cost of the fuel break construction costs. L & L Sawmill was the successful bidder. Their bid offered to complete all of the fuel break work as specified in the contract and valued at $2,850 for the value of the forest products. BLM issued the notice to proceed for the fuel break work on February 8, 2007 and expect work to be complete by the end of March, 2007.
The relationship between the private landowners and the agency representatives that was established through the Johnson County Fire Mitigation Committee played an important role in getting the hazardous fuels mitigation work done. BLM’s stewardship contract work would have been much more difficult to implement without the cooperation of the agencies and individual group members. Based on their successful work in the Powder River Properties WUI, the Mitigation Committee members have agreed to extend this collaborative and cooperative approach to address other hazardous fuels situations in the county.