Shining Example of Shared Stewardship for Public Lands
In the summer of 2018, Colorado was in an exceptional drought. Fires burned throughout the state, including several large fires in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Colorado’s Uncompahgre Field Office.
On a warm July day, a lightning strike ignited the Bull Draw fire. Over the span of two months, the 36,553-acre Bull Draw fire spread from BLM-managed land onto National Forest land. The difficult to contain fire, one of the largest in Colorado history, prompted several area closures and burned through thousands of acres of critical mule deer habitat and range allotments in a remote part of the state. The fire consumed a majority of the seed bank, leaving bare ground susceptible to excessive soil loss and cheatgrass invasion.
“When the fire is contained and hardworking crews head home, the long-term work to restore the landscape begins,” said Uncompahgre Field Office manager Gregory Larson.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and BLM staff saw the burn area as an opportunity to improve deteriorated mule deer winter habitat, improve soil erosion, and address weeds. In 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife designated most of the burn area as a “focus area” for habitat improvement under the 2014 Mule Deer Strategy plan. The treatments originally proposed for the area consisted largely of prescribed fire and aerial reseeding.
They also recognized they could not do it alone. Joining forces with the U.S. Forest Service, Mule Deer Foundation, and a local rancher, the team developed a post-fire rehabilitation plan.
In February, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the BLM worked side-by-side for several weekends to help mix and bag more than 83,000 pounds of seed, transport seed to the burn site, and aerially spread it over 6,000 acres of BLM-managed land. The local rancher committed labor and equipment for fencing to protect the burned area from grazing before the seeds establish, and to improve management of the burn area into the future.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation contributed more than $300,000 to the project. Without the contributions from the state and the Mule Deer Foundation and in-kind labor donation from the local rancher, the initial estimated cost to the BLM would have exceeded $725,000, making the project far less feasible to complete. Working with the state, local organizations, and community members is critical to meeting the BLM’s multiple-use mission. This project is a shining example of shared stewardship and being a good neighbor, which benefits the environment, communities, and the local economy.