County completes draft of fire management plan

Plan will be first of its kind in U.S.; coordinating wildfire management and suppression on federal, state, public lands

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By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
A draft for a fire management plan for the northwest corner of Moffat County is complete.
The fire plan is Phase 1 of the county's initiative to coordinate wildfire management and suppression and wildfire fuel treatments on private, state and federal lands.
This is the first such effort of its kind in the U. S.
"We're going to have the Sheriff's Office review the plan, and then collect input from all the local fire departments, state and federal agencies that manage land in Moffat County," said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director. "An important thing to note about this plan is that it is not mandatory it's all volunteer involvement. The basic goal is to find a better way to handle wildfires and fuel treatment prescribed burns, to be more cost effective and safer in how we fight fires."
When finished, the plan will provide a record of landowners and their preferences for how wildfires are to be managed on or near the property. The information will be available on a database, so that when a fire starts, an agency can access how the landowner wants a fire handled, who the owner is and can double-check the record, and then organize a plan to handle a wildfire accordingly.
The database will also help organize controlled burns that will be used to lessen the severity or chances of wildfires by eliminating or reducing fuels that would feed the fire.
Phase 1 covers areas from the western state border to just past the eastern border of Sandwash Basin, and from the northern state border to the southern edge of Dinosaur National Monument.
The Moffat County Commissioners recently accepted the draft of Phase 1 from the consultant handling the project, Jim Anderson of EcoSystem Enhancement, LLC.
Once the draft has been reviewed by the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, the landowners, and the state and federal land management agencies, the plan will be made available online for public access.
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead will review the proposed designations and management. The Sheriff's Office is responsible for fire suppression and management on all private lands in Moffat County that are not within a fire district or have a fire department.
"Fire is a natural occurrence, and a lot of times entities involved with fire suppression rush to extinguish something that should be allowed to burn if it had natural parameters," Grinstead said. "I support agriculture, and the right to burn for grazing it's just a matter of us getting to the table and reviewing the work that is done. We'll also need to teach the deputies that do fire duty about the plan and how to use it.
The Fire Plan would allow agencies and wildfire teams to manage a wildfire by allowing it to burn until it came to a logical place such as a river to suppress the fire, or when the fire heads toward an area where fire is not wanted.
Until then, the fire can be managed by burning naturally across lands whether privately, state or federally owned.
"We've found that many people want fire to burn on their lands if it happens," Comstock said. "If the fire ignites in an area where it's allowed to burn by everybody, there's no suppression done so there's no cost.
"In the old days, if a wildfire approached private property, it had to be put out no matter what."
The plans procedures are comparable to the Ecklund Complex wildfire that burned over the summer, Comstock said.
"How effectively federal and private lands could be managed for fire together," Comstock said. "The landowners met the [Bureau of Land Management], saw the BLM's fire analysis of what they projected the fire would do.
"Both the landowners and the BLM wanted the fire to be managed, to allow the fire to burn through the Ecklund Complex," he said. "The fire smoldered all summer, and actually some of the landowners weren't happy that the fire didn't burn more that it did."
After the plan is completed, the task of implementation will be the next step. Projects and plans will be funded by grants and other monies, Comstock said.
Anderson will begin working on Phase 2 once Phase 1 is complete.
Phase 2 will encompass the southern border of Dinosaur National Monument to the White River in Rio Blanco County, and from the western state border to approximately 10 miles east of Maybell.
That phase is scheduled for completion by mid-to late-2002.

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