Uncompahgre Plateau Project wins hefty grants

Land managers on the Uncompahgre Plateau got a vote of confidence Tuesday when they learned the U.S. Department of Agriculture would pump nearly $500,000 into their efforts this year and nearly $10 million over the next decade.

The Uncompahgre Project, which combines the efforts of land managers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as private landowners, is one of 10 projects from around the nation that was selected for collaborative forest-restoration grants amounting to $10 million a year.

One of the underpinnings of the project is the management of 1.5 million acres in ways meant to mimic nature’s land-management goals, if not its precise techniques.

Parts of the ponderosa, pinon-juniper and spruce forests on the plateau stretching from Mesa County south to the San Juan Mountains are regularly cut down mechanically to prevent them from developing into densely forested landscapes susceptible to fast-moving, hot and destructive fires.

In many cases, managers use prescribed burns and timber harvests, treatments intended to foil invasive species and re-establish native plants, as well as trail and road relocations to accomplish similar goals.

“One of the aims is to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire,” said Pam Motley, spokeswoman for the Uncompahgre Plateau Project.

At times, land managers take advantage of nature’s techniques, said Lee Ann Loupe, spokeswoman for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

“Right now we have two fires going” on the plateau, Loupe said.

The two were among six that were ignited by lightning from storms that raged Tuesday over the plateau and much of western Colorado.

Land managers opted to suppress four of the fires and let two burn for reasons that matched their priorities, Loupe said.

Forest management, however, is only a part of the approach of the project, which started in 1998.

The Uncompahgre Plateau Project — sometimes called the UP Project — uses “citizen scientists” to track the condition of the forest, and it depends on the involvement of the timber and forest-products industries and environmental organizations, Motley said.

This year, four Montrose High School students spent the summer on the plateaus monitoring forest conditions as a part of the management project, Motley said.

“You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to do the work,” she said.

It’s been an amazing opportunity for industry and environmental groups,” Motley said. “I would say we are real frontrunners in this” collaborative-management approach.

While the grant covers the 550,000 acres of Forest Service-managed land on the plateau, it opens the opportunity for other participants to seek funding for projects on adjacent land, Motley said.

The grant, for which the amount will depend on the availability of money, gives the land managers a chance to accomplish more in a shorter period of time than they would do with money through the normal appropriations process, Loupe said.

The Uncompahgre Plateau Project is “absolutely the best thing for the land,” Forest Supervisor Charlie Richmond said, “and a model for collaborative management for the future.”


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