Methodist Front a focus of the Envision Forest Health Council
The Decker Fire burned the eastern side of Methodist Mountain but there are still heavy fuel loads in the forest. The Methodist Front project proactively addresses consequences as seen in recent Decker and Hayden Pass fires.”USFS Salida District Ranger Jim Pitts
Envision Forest Health Council partners are planning a large wildfire mitigation project within the foothills of Methodist Mountain to create a 5-mile-long area of fuel breaks to protect the southern flank of the Salida and Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people.
The project links to the Decker Fire burn area, where fuel loads were reduced by last fall’s lightning-sparked wildfire. It also connects to 800 acres of completed work on CR 108 by the Bureau of Land Management (see map), and involves new forest mitigation work on both public and private lands.
Heavy fuel loads in Chaffee County’s forests have combined with warmer, drier temperatures and wind events to increase the intensity and frequency of wildfires.
The Forest Service is focusing on treatments within acreage on Cleveland Mountain. Private property work on nearly 500 acres is managed by the Salida Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) to connect treatments on city, state and privately owned lands to create the fuel breaks. These treatments decrease fire risk by creating “shaded” fuel breaks with groups of trees spaced about 15 feet apart.
The Methodist Front project improves wildlife habitat by enhancing grass cover and forage for rabbit, turkey and squirrels, as well as a variety of big game species.
This is an important winter-range hub for elk, black bear and mule deer migrations. Our collar data show that deer winter here, then migrate across eight counties in the summer months to areas as far away as Breckenridge, the Wet Mountains and the San Luis Valley.”Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Aragon
The project protects the Gold Medal trout waters of the Arkansas River as well as the Herrington and Del Monte ditches by reducing the likely intensity of a wildfire in the forests above the South Arkansas River. The “Little Ark” flows through Poncha Springs and Salida, feeding into municipal drinking water supplies, agricultural lands and wetlands. The major WAPA power transmission line and a critical communications site to the south of Highway 50 also will be protected.
Forest restoration work involves hand-cutting and mastication, a treatment process that shreds or chops smaller trees and shrubs into pieces to encourage vegetation regrowth and new seedling survival. Pile and broadcast burning will occur on public lands, depending on weather and forest fuel conditions.
The Methodist Front project is a top treatment priority area identified in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The 2020 plan approved in February uses computer modeling to map wildfire risk and identify the right areas to treat for the highest cost efficiency and community benefit.
The Envision Forest Health Council formed to update and implement the CWPP, to increase the past rate of forest treatments and reduce overall risk of the effects of a wildfire. A new service called Chaffee Chips will be offered to Methodist Mountain landowners this year and in 2021 to encourage additional work in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) through coordinated neighborhood slash removal and chipping services.
There is a mosaic of public and private lands in the high-density WUI on the Methodist Front. All of these plans combine in an impressively collaborative effort to address wildfire threat for thousands of people.”Chaffee County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Kent Maxwell
CSFS will work with landowners this summer to develop detailed treatment plans on private parcels. About a third of the treatments will be completed in 2021. The Forest Service plans to finish public land treatments soon after, weather and other management factors pending.