BLM fire plan available for public comment

Bureau of Land Management officials are asking for public comment on a fire management plan that would allow officials to let some fires burn in a controlled manner.

Copies of the fire management plan are available at the Little Snake Field Office and public libraries in Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Maybell, Dinosaur, Meeker and Grand Junction. It may also be accessed on the Internet at www.co.blm.gov/lsra/fire2000.htm.

Comments will be accepted until April 10 at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office at 455 Emerson St. in Craig.

The plan is in draft form. BLM officials expect it to be adopted this spring.

"This plan will allow us to use fire as a management tool for resource benefit," BLM Public Affairs Specialist Lynn Barclay said.

In the past, BLM wildland firefighters had only one option fire suppression. The only flexibility was "least cost suppression," where officials could let a fire burn if a natural fire break would soon stop it and that was the most cost-effective way of dealing with a fire.

The new plan allows officials to use fire as a resource benefit. Fire clears out older brush and allows for new growth that may be more palatable to big game or more suitable for sage grouse cover.

The concept is to let nature take its course in instances where it doesn't threaten structures or private land.

Fires will only be able to burn unsuppressed in certain areas and under specific conditions. If the fire is caused by humans, certain weather conditions prevail or it threatens structures or habitat, it will be suppressed.

The plan provides a checklist to determine criteria that must be met before a fire can be managed for resource benefit. Though a fire may burn unsuppressed, it will be under constant supervision by BLM officials to ensure it doesn't get out of hand or leave its designated burn area.

Fuels management is also addressed as part of the plan and calls for mowing weeds or beating brush in order to prevent fires from burning in sensitive areas. As part of the fuels management plan, BLM officials may allow a fire to burn unsuppressed in order to burn off fire fuels that may cause an uncontrolled fire in the future.

This land management tool will not be used often, BLM Field Manager John Husband said, but officials wanted the option. Following the philosophy that all fires must be suppressed has caused a build-up of fuels that can cause fires to ignite or feed them as they burn.

Lands within the Little Snake Field Office fall within four suppression categories. Parts of Moffat County defined as "A" areas include the City of Craig and most of the land to the east. All fires will be suppressed in those areas. Prescribed fires may be allowed in "B" areas, but all unplanned fires will be suppressed. Fire may be desired in "C" areas, but social, political or ecological constraints must be considered. Many areas west of Maybell have been defined as "D" areas, BLM land where fire is desired and there are few constraints in its use.

All fires that threaten private or state property will be suppressed unless a landowner signs an agreement with the BLM asking that no fire suppression efforts be taken.

A map of these areas is available with the plan.

"This is an important issue for this area," Husband said. "Wildland fires have more potential to change vegetation and fuel hazards on public lands more quickly than any other management tool available to us."

Barclay encourages anyone with an interest to look over the plan and comment on it. Once it is adopted, changes are difficult to make, she said.

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