Vail working with state, feds on large forest health project
Project will take time to approve, but could cover as much as 4,400 acres north of Interstate 70
- Area size: 4,400 acres.
- Wilderness portion: 2,200 acres.
- Intent: Wildfire mitigation and wildlife habitat enhancement.
- Prescribed burns will be part of the plan.
It might take another year or so to finalize a plan for wildfire mitigation and habitat enhancement north of Interstate 70 in Vail. Given that the feds are involved, that’s fairly speedy.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday heard an update on what’s being called the “Vail Valley Forest Health and Fuels Project.” The idea behind what Vail Town Manager Scott Robson calls a “landscape-level” plan is to reduce wildfire danger by doing a lot of work north of Interstate 70 from roughly Spraddle Creek on the west to Pitkin Creek on the east, and north to Bald Mountain.
The area is about 4,400 acres, almost seven square miles. Most of that property is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service. About half of the proposed area is inside the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. That makes the project more complicated, since special authorization is needed for virtually any work in those areas.
The proposal wouldn’t involve work on all 4,400 acres, but treatment would include a combination of prescribed burning and various kinds of thinning.
According to the report, the aim of the project is to “reduce the accumulation of fuels and alter the age classes of tress and shrubs by removing over-mature plant and stimulating plant regeneration.”
Councilmember Kim Langmaid said it’s past time for work in that area.
Langmaid said it isn’t safe “leaving the forest in its current condition this close to the community.”
Langmaid added that the area above Spraddle Creek is “getting pretty bad” and getting worse.
But a lot has to happen before any work begins.
The town has hired the SE Group to help shepherd the plan through compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act.
That’s going to require either an environmental assessment, or a more complex environmental impact statement.
Completing either one of those documents will require a lot of on-the-ground analysis and public comment.
Ashley Smith of the SE Group told the council that work will require expert analysis of the landscape to determine current conditions. After the field work will come recommendations on just what to on which parts of the parcel.
Smith said that work could take about a year, depending on either weather or a lot of public comment.
“One concern I have (is) that we make sure people are informed and educated about the value (of the project),” councilmember Brian Stockmar said, adding he’s hopeful the town can develop a public education program.
That could be crucial in terms of public comment. A 1998 proposal for prescribed burning in a smaller portion of the same area was vigorously opposed by neighbors.
Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia told councilmembers there seems to be a “different sentiment” regarding the use of prescribed burning for wildfire danger mitigation.
Bertuglia added that if and when the plan is approved, it will probably be expensive.
Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak told the council that a fuel reduction project in the Intermountain area cost about $750,000 for a 100-acre area. But, Novak added, the helicopter logging seen in the Intermountain area isn’t likely for the current project.
The town will likely shoulder the bulk of the cost, although discussions continue on how the town, the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will share costs.
Novak said grant funding could cover some of the costs, and that money is available from those groups. In addition, the Forest Service could provide people for some of the work.
As preliminary work starts to ramp up, Bertuglia said the council will see an intergovernmental agreement between the town, state and feds at the Aug. 4 meeting.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.