BLM prepares for prescribed burns in Powderhorn

Transferring new wildfire fire truck to county as well

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Gunnison field office is preparing to make prescribed burns within the Powderhorn Wilderness area, treating areas around the wilderness designation for fire prevention as well. While no details are yet finalized regarding the timing and exact procedure, acting field manager for the Gunnison field office Jon Krasinski informed Gunnison County commissioners of that general plan and several others during a BLM update on September 28.

Krasinski referred to the project as a new leadership proposal at Powderhorn that will entail fuels treatment on the outside of Powderhorn Wilderness and multiple prescribed burns on the inside of the wilderness boundary.

“The endgame is to return fire back to the natural operating conditions within the wilderness. We’ve been suppressing fire in there for decades,” said Krasinski.

He said the amount of dead standing trees is “astounding” in the Powderhorn area, and a patchwork or mosaic approach will offer reseeding sources without a catastrophic fire event.

“We feel that we have the legal authority to do that,” he said, as legislation around wilderness designations are giving the BLM more direct approval for such decisions. Comments on the initial environmental assessment have been received and a new draft with more details and a final burn plan is underway.

He said in order to avoid aerial suppression and bulldozers on the ground, “we can do work on the ground with a minimal amount of trammel.” He said this level of response is appropriate for climate change adaptation and building forest resiliency going forward.

Krasinski also updated commissioners that the Gunnison field office is working on a new revision plan, as it tries to do every 20 years or so. The last revision plan was written in 1993. The local field office is still looking to hire a full-time field manager, and Krasinski is one of several candidates being interviewed. The office is also working to fill several other vacancies, including OHV rangers, realty specialist and outdoor recreation specialists.

“These job vacancies have come up a lot in our Gunnison Sage Grouse committee meetings,” commented commissioner Liz Smith. She said this related to helping with habitat restoration and weed mitigation, and the need to coordinate between stakeholders.

“It really helps when you have all these focus groups working together,” agreed Krasinski. He said the BLM will start focusing on whether to hire an additional position or how else to tackle it before the battle on cheatgrass is lost.

The BLM also transferred a type 4 wildland fire response truck to the county to use in wildland firefighting efforts on October 5. The truck remains BLM property and comes at no cost to the county; a location has not yet been determined for staging it but will be up to the county’s discretion.

“We’re very pleased to be able to offer that to the county,” said Krasinski.

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