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County Commissioners discuss fire danger and restrictions

Meeting with GMUG forest supervisors 

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison County commissioners discussed increasing fire danger and possible implementation of further restrictions for the area at the Tuesday, June 12  work session with forest supervisor Scott Armentrout and deputy supervisor Chad Stewart of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.

“We are hearing that people are coming upon unattended, smoldering fires in dispersed camping areas in the forest, which is not acceptable,” said commissioner Phil Chamberland. “At what point are we going to implement Stage 2 restrictions prohibiting all campfires?”

“We don’t want to do it if conditions don’t warrant it, but everything we are hearing from neighboring counties is saying, ‘It’s time,’” replied Armentrout. “Last night I received calls from Ouray, Delta and San Miguel, who are asking when the forest service will move for further restrictions.”

Armentrout also reported that Saguache, San Miguel and Ouray counties have already implemented Stage 2 restrictions on county land.

“Why wouldn’t we implement Stage 2 restrictions, given the forecast and the recent San Juan forest closure?” asked commissioner John Messner.

“There would be economic impacts with Stage 2 restrictions,” said Stewart. “People don’t want to come to a campground where they can’t have a campfire. People will cancel reservations if they can’t have a campfire.”

“But are there other impacts to industry? For example, any impacts to oil and gas or timber on national forests in Stage 2 restrictions?” asked Messner.

“No. None to industry. They already are under restrictions to have spark-arresting devices on any machinery,” replied Stewart.

“The economic impacts from cancelled camping trips is miniscule compared to the potential impacts of a wildfire; it’s not even in the same ballpark,” said Messner.

“One problem we are facing now is that people don’t understand what is meant by an ‘established metal fire ring.’ People see a ring of rocks and think, ‘Oh, that’s an established campfire ring.’ But they will understand Stage 2 because it is ‘no fires, period,’’ added commissioner Jonathan Houck.

Houck emphasized that with the recent closure of the San Juan forest and numerous forests in New Mexico as well, many visitors will head this way to the Gunnison forest because it is still open. “We should prepare for an influx of visitors larger than normal due to those closures, and I am willing to take the heat and support more restrictions, even if it is the conservative approach,” said Houck.

“If I were reading the tea leaves, I would say that is the direction we are headed,” said Armentrout.

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