Regional forester warns of tense fire season

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON The Daily Sentinel—Daniel Jiron, the new head of the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service, spoke to Club 20 on Saturday about the agency’s work on a roadless rule alternative that is specific to Colorado, and about contracts with forest product businesses.

The lower North Fork fire in the mountains southwest of Denver, which has claimed at least three lives, could be the harbinger of a long summer of burning, the new forester for the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service said.

“I’m looking at having a very challenging fire year,” Daniel Jiron told the spring meeting of Club 20 at Two Rivers Convention Center on Saturday. “We have our work cut out for us.”

Jiron, who took over as the chief of the five-state region that includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, said property owners in or near wooded areas should be taking precautions to avoid fire if they haven’t already.

Even though the North Fork blaze has been on state or private lands, Jiron said he is watching the fire intently.

“I am on high alert and very engaged in this personally,” he said.

As an old Hotshot crewman who battled fires, the deaths of three people “are very disturbing to me,” he said.

The origin of the North Fork blaze was blamed on embers from a prescribed burn on land managed by the Colorado Forest Service. Prescribed burns, which are fires that are set under controlled conditions to eliminate dense growth as part of land management, continue to be a valuable tool after an area of overgrown forest has been thinned with other techniques, Jiron said.

Jiron, a 26-year veteran of the Forest Service who was appointed in February, is a Pueblo native with roots on the Western Slope, where he frequently worked in onion fields while growing up on his father’s family farm in Olathe, he said.

“I very much know where our food comes from,” Jiron said.

He arrived at the “11.999th hour” with the Agriculture Department   nearly done with work on a Colorado-specific roadless rule, Jiron said.

“I expect that the next step is for the rule to be released,” he said.

He also has begun working with forest-products businesses through what have been difficult times with low timber prices, Jiron said.

He is canceling contacts that contain terms highly unfavorable to companies in the current economic climate, Jiron said, setting the stage for them to renegotiate under more realistic terms, Jiron said.

“We need a solid industrial base,” Jiron said. “It helps our ability to carry out forest-management activities.”


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