Envision Forest Health Council partners will create a community fuel break west of Hecla Junction, along Coyote Valley Road leading to the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
The project is designed to improve firefighting capabilities, making it safer for them to access the forest in the event of a wildfire. The fuel break also will improve egress for residents and visitors and protect structures in the surrounding area.
The project is a top treatment priority area identified in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. This is the second fuel break to be planned and funded through the Forest Health Council’s work. A project in the foothills of Methodist Mountain will create a 5-mile-long area of fuel breaks that protect the Salida-Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people.
The Coyote Valley Road fuel break primarily runs through Mesa Antero Estates and ties into future and previously completed public lands mitigation work by the U.S. Forest Service on more than 6,000 acres of forest to the west.
Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) received necessary permission from more than a dozen landowners to complete mitigation work on both sides of the road to create the 2-mile-long, 400-foot-wide fuel break. The agency will design details of the project this year and complete treatments by 2022. Funding is supported by Chaffee Common Ground.
Foresters plan to create a “shaded” fuel break, which means vegetation is thinned to achieve better separation among tree tops to prevent the chance of crown fires along the narrow road, according to CSFS Forester J.T. Shaver. Treatments will include hand-thinning and mastication with on-site chipping. Mastication is a treatment that shreds or chops smaller trees and shrubs into pieces.
“We are encouraging homeowners in the area to do additional work, especially in their home ignition zones about 100 feet around their structures,” Shaver said. Additional work by landowners is not funded by the project but will contribute to better forest health in the area, which encompasses Mesa Antero Estates and 200 homes in the Mesa Antero subdivision.
The project benefits wildlife because thinning the dense over-story improves habitat by allowing sunlight to reach the ground so that new shrubs and grasses grow, providing better cover and forage. The area provides severe winter range for elk, as well as good habitat and a potential lambing area for sheep, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife management plans for these species.
The Forest Health Council is comprised of more than 20 community leaders from land management agencies, organizations and business groups. The Council implements the county Community Wildfire Protection Plan to increase the past rate of forest treatments and reduce the community’s overall risk of the effects of a wildfire.