Charred trees will stand for years
Vail CO, Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Five years ago, the Coal Seam Fire burned a total of 12,229 acres in and around Glenwood Springs. Now, a half a decade later, the charred remains of trees on the hillsides serve as a silent reminder of that day.
Those charred remains also are surrounded by greener foliage, a constant reminder of the rebirth of the landscape and the fire-ravaged summer of 2002.
Most of the areas where fire touched are greener today due to efforts of the Burned Area Emergency Reclamation Team. Before the fires were extinguished they began planning the long road back to replenishing the hillsides with what the fire took away.
“It was a huge operation,” said Dan Sokal, natural resource specialist for the White River National Forest. “We were competing for the same resources like helicopters and airplanes that were being used at the Hayman Fire. There were a lot of things working against us that summer.”
The destruction of the fire was so intense that if action wasn’t taken quickly, other disasters ” such as flooding, mud slides and dust storms ” could become real, potentially life-threatening problems.
“In the past, the reclamation wasn’t thought of until months later,” he said. “But now we think of what can be done immediately to begin rehabbing the ground.”
Several months following the fire, some residents did have to deal with mud and debris from the charred hillsides.
Sokal worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at the time, and headed up the emergency rehabilitation in the area. Several other government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the city of Glenwood Springs, also were involved in re-introducing vegetation to other burned areas, but the majority of the burned area was on public lands managed by the bureau.
To reduce the risk of disaster, the effort was initially focused on three areas ” the Mitchell Creek drainage watershed above the Mitchell Creek Fish Hatchery, Red Mountain south of where Glenwood Meadows is currently located and the S.O.B. watershed in the valley to the south of Red Mountain.
The emergency stabilization projects were divided into three phases.
“The main point is to stabilize the slopes with perennial grasses to prevent the immediate removal of topsoil and prevent erosion,” Sokal said. “It’s not focused on restoring full vegetation.”
Crews worked on laying straw logs called wattles across the steep hillsides to prevent mudslides. Soil netting material was installed to prevent topsoil erosion and seeding was done using a “hydro mulch”-and-seed mixture of native grasses to establish a good base system for vegetation. The mixture was dropped by single-engine crop-dusting planes on the steep hillsides.
“Having the grass growing is important because it helps prevent runoff,” Sokal said. “We had grass growing before the end of the growing season. It was definitely a good jump start for getting good perennial grasses growing strong.”
But the charred tree remains will be the only kind of trees to stand on the hillsides for years to come, Sokal said.
“Most of the oak brush has already returned,” he said. “But the pinon pines and the juniper will take decades to replace.”
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