Vail wildfire project now in the public comment phase |

Vail wildfire project now in the public comment phase

Work in East Vail could begin late this year

It looks like an ambitious fuel reduction and habitat enhancement project in East Vail may begin this year.

The town of Vail, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have for the past few years been working on a “landscape level” fuels reduction program north of Interstate 70 and stretching roughly from Booth Creek west to roughly the town’s public works campus. The overall project is a bit more than 3,000 acres.

Most of the project zone is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, and some is in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. That has complicated the project.

The project needed to go through the National Environmental Protection Act review process. Even more scrutiny is required to do work in a wilderness area.

After work between the parties, and aided by consultants the SE Group, the Forest Service March 4 released a “notice of proposed action.” That notice identifies proposed treatments — from prescribed fire and pile burning to mechanical and hand thinning. The proposal also includes some work done with aircraft and drones.

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One complication is that Vail’s town boundaries are very close to wilderness area boundaries on about 840 acres in the proposed treatment area.

According to a staff memo, the federal Minimum Requirements Decision Guide on wildness areas found that the proximity of wilderness boundaries to homes — 250 to 500 feet in places — creates the justification do to thinning and other fire mitigation work in the area.

Burning in those areas will be “broadcast” fire, which mimics natural fire. Broadcast burning also eliminates the use of chainsaws, which are forbidden in wilderness areas.

The property in the project area also includes about 340 acres of land identified as wilderness in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act. That land isn’t wilderness now, but if the legislation is passed and signed before work begins, work on that land would shift from chainsaws to crosscut saws and similar equipment.

During a March 15 presentation to the Vail Town Council, Vail Wildland Coordinator Paul Cada said a record of decision from that federal process is expected by late summer or early fall of this year. Work could begin shortly after that decision is issued.

Council member Jonathan Staufer asked Cada is the plan ensures that sediment, trash and ash doesn’t end up in Gore Creek and its tributaries.

Cada replied that the proposed work keeps mechanical work away from streams and water courses.

“I feel comfortable with the proposed project,” Mayor Kim Langmaid said, noting that she’ll propose just a few edits to the letter of support the town will send to the Forest Service, “since my name’s at the bottom of it.”

Learn more or comment

There will be an April 6 community meeting to discuss the Booth Creek Fuels Reduction Project.

The meeting is set for 5 to 7 p.m. at the Grandview Room atop the Lionshead parking structure.

Information is available on the EngageVail website, and the U.S. Forest Service has a site to submit public comment.

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