Eagle County Wildfire Collaborative had a busy 2022, and is looking to accomplish more this year | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Wildfire Collaborative had a busy 2022, and is looking to accomplish more this year

Burning slash piles from trimming and thinning in the forest gets rid of that material. Thinning, trimming and other efforts help make areas more resistant to wildfire.
Vail Fire Department/Courtesy photo
Some accomplishments
  • 400 curbside risk assessments in Vail
  • Eagle Valley Wildland created 17 miles of tactical fuel breaks
  • Eagle County had 300 property owners participate in the REALFire program
  • The Bureau of Land Management has done fuel reduction work on 2,099 acres throughout the county

If you’ve signed up for Eagle County Alerts — you have done that, right? — in the past year you’ve seen any number of alerts about wildfire mitigation work around the valley. There are more to come.

Some of the partners in the Eagle Valley Wildfire Collaborative recently updated the Eagle County Board of Commissioners about the group’s progress in 2022.

The collaborative is a large group — currently at 19 partners and growing — and got a lot done last year.

“No one entity could have done (this) on its own,” Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer said of the work accomplished. Every partner entity has its own goals, of course. But the overall aim is shared: to make Eagle County, its communities and its environment more resistant to devastating wildfires.

“Everyone is committed to that outcome,” Bauer said.

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Paul Cada has been the Vail Fire Department’s wildfire coordinator for several years. Collaborating with partners throughout the valley has allowed “building on the momentum we have,” he said.

Cada noted that Vail — in which the fire department is an arm of the town government — has since 2017 done at least curbside fire danger assessments of every property in town.

‘A reduction in risk’

Thanks to both town and county funding, “we’re seeing a reduction in risk,” Cada said.

Funding has come from fire departments to towns, the county and state and federal agencies.

That risk reduction is coming from Vail to Dotsero and in the Roaring Fork Valley. Given the amount of federal land in the county, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are key partners in the efforts. And those agencies have gotten a lot done.

In just 2022, the Bureau of Land Management treated — from thinning to controlled burns — nearly 2,100 acres around the valley. The Forest Service had logging projects — which thin out thick stands of timber — on more than 1,000 acres around the county.

Even the county’s more remote northern area is a participant in the effort. The Rock Creek Volunteer Fire Department, which operates in the area near Bond and McCoy, did fuel reduction projects on seven properties and held a pair of community chipping days, in which trimmed branches can be turned into mulch.

There’s more to come, of course.

Hugh Fairfield-Smith, the fire management officer for Eagle Valley Wildland, said the intent of the collaborative is restoring ecosystems to “how they should be.” Those more natural ecosystems were naturally thinned by fires before federal fire management policy for a century dictated putting out all fires. The natural systems are more fire-resistant, Fairfield-Smith said.

More to come

Fairfield-Smith said the collaborative’s 2013 plan is to treat roughly 2,600 acres. The collaborative is also seeking approvals to work around the Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards, along with other areas.

Fairfield-Smith added that the collaborative has sent a letter to Eagle Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis asking for support for pushing back some boundaries close to residential areas.

Perhaps the most difficult area is in East Vail, where private property in some cases is only 300 feet or so from the boundary of the Eagles Nest Wilderness. That project is in process with Forest Service officials.

But working on fire-hardening private property is among the best ways to help slow the spread of wildfire.

County wildfire coordinator Eric Lovgren said new property owners tend to be the “most motivated” to create defensible space around their homes.

In addition to more work coming, along with messaging to residents and visitors around projects, Lovgren said another effort intends to put some metrics of accomplishments to the work being done.

Bauer acknowledged the need for metrics. But, he added, “To do that, you need to have a plan.”

That’s why the collaborative is working to develop a countywide fire reduction program.

Bauer said the intent is that the next time the collaborative meets with the commissioners, “We’ll have gone from the overarching plan to how we achieve it.”

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