BLM proposes fuel-reduction work near Meeker
The Bureau of Land Management is beginning environmental review for wildfire mitigation work within a project area of nearly 200,000 acres southwest of Meeker in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.
The fuel-reduction project stretches south and west of County Road 5 (Piceance Creek Road), toward Douglas Pass and across the Garfield County line. It’s in an area with considerable oil and gas infrastructure that the agency hopes to better protect from the possibility of wildfire.
Rio Blanco County “is among the top three counties in Colorado for wildfire risk,” the BLM White River Field Office says in a project document.
The project area “has the highest frequency of naturally ignited fires” within the field office’s jurisdiction, the document says.
Kyle Frary, acting fire management specialist for the BLM in northwest Colorado, said most of those fires are caused by lightning. Several occurred in the area last summer.
The area is ranked moderate to high in terms of what’s called the Fire Regime Condition Class, a measure of departure from the natural regime. The BLM’s goal is to return it to moderate to low, using a mix of prescribed fires; cutting, chipping and other mechanical treatments; and reseeding. Herbicide use has been ruled out because it would leave standing dead fuel and increase the chances of large fires.
The Rio Blanco County wildfire protection plan “outlines oil and gas producing facilities as a high priority for fuels reduction. Reducing fuel loading through vegetation management is one of the most effective elements of any fire and fuels program,” the project document says.
The BLM has begun a public scoping process to receive guidance on what it should consider in an environmental assessment on the project. It’s asking for comments by April 16.
Frary said it’s too soon to say how much acreage could be subject to treatment through specific treatment projects within the planning area. The idea of doing the environmental assessment for the entire area is to eliminate the need for such work for each project.
“It takes more time up front in the planning process but it will allow us to get more work done out on the ground eventually,” he said.