Story Map Time: Fuels Treatments in Colorado

Story by Brittany Sprout, Public Affairs Specialist

Check out the full Story Map here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/30ee2b1c2c0049e9a91536ef3c27fa46

As the core fire season in Colorado ends, our BLM fire program prepares to switch gears and focus on fuels treatments and management over the winter and spring. Fuels treatments allow us to remove hazardous fuels by reducing or rearranging surface fuels, increase spacing between tree crowns, or spacing other vegetation to reduce the opportunity for a fire to “ladder” from the ground to the canopy across a landscape. Fuels treatments can also focus on removing invasive species to allow native, fire-resistant species to grow back into the area.

Fuels, fuels, fuels…

The Lakemoor West treatments had a positive impact on containing the High Park wildfire in 2022. Nearly 20 years ago, BLM performed hand thinning and prescribed fire treatments to reduce hazardous fuels in Lakemoor West, 5.5 miles west of Cripple Creek, Colorado. On May 12, 2022, the High Park fire was reported in the same area and contained 12 days later.

The left photo is a landscape with large and small trees. The right photo is the same landscape with smaller trees cut down.
Although these photos look similar, the left is before our fire crews thinned the area and the right is after thinning. You’ll notice younger trees and smaller vegetation was removed to prevent any future fires from climbing up the taller trees. 

 

The previous fuels treatments allowed safe, successful deployment of suppression resources. The treatments also created a healthy forest resistant to wildfires, and the trees that survived the fire increased the height of the closet branch to the ground, which will make the area even more resistant to wildland fires in the future. Who knew that our actions from twenty years ago would be so crucial and beneficial for ensuring safety today? (I think our fuels specialists did!)

An area with several small piles of cut down trees and branches.
In 2003, Lakemoor West was hand thinned by BLM staff. You can see lumps of branches, small bushes, and small trees that were removed from the area. Small vegetation and young trees are perfect targets for fires to climb, allowing it to reach taller trees that wouldn’t normally burn.
A photo of smoke in the air and small vegetation on fire.
In 2008, BLM staff returned to Lakemoor West to finish their second phase of treatments – prescribed fire. Although creating fire to prevent a fire sounds counterintuitive, it has many benefits. Excess vegetation that would allow fires to easily spread and consume are removed, and it sometimes makes space for native species to regrow if invasive species have invaded the area.

 

The recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has allocated additional funding for wildfire risk reduction efforts, which will go a long way in helping our program reach our fuels treatment goals. The BLM values creating a resilient landscape on public lands to ensure future generations can enjoy lands the same way past generations have. Our fire program is looking forward to more fuels treatment successes like Lakemoor West in the future!

The left is a photo of a landscape with grasses and trees. The right is the same area with burn markings from a recent fire.
The photo on the left is from 2009 after fuels treatments were applied and the photo on the right is after the High Park Fire in 2022. Thanks to the spacing among trees due to the removal of smaller vegetation, it was more difficult for the fire to spread quickly across the landscape. The fire was also unable to advance up the taller trees due to removing low hanging branches.

 

This story map would not have been possible without our GIS Specialist, Marlinda Jacks, and Natural Resource Specialist, Glenda Torres. To learn more about the treatments, the fire, and benefits, checkout the story map – including interactive GIS maps: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/30ee2b1c2c0049e9a91536ef3c27fa46