Blue River West Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project
Blue River West Hazardous Fuels Reduction
The Blue River West Hazardous Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project is a 121-acre fuel break located by the Town of Blue River, just west of and paralleling Highway 9. The treatment will take place on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land and is being administered by the Colorado State Forest Service.
Goals and Project Background
The goals of the Blue River West project are to reduce wildfire hazards to the adjacent communities in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), restore an aging lodgepole pine forest, and to support and enhance watershed resiliency. This project is also a part of a landscape-scale effort to strategically connect, strengthen, and build a series of fuel breaks around the Blue River and Breckenridge areas to improve community safety and forest health.
The project went under contract in July 2022. Crews will work only during the summer months (June-September), with a project completion date by October 2023.
Current Forest Condition
Even though the trees may be smaller and extremely dense, the current lodgepole pine forest has existed since the last natural wildfire in the 1800s and the trees are at the end of their natural life expectancy, making them less resilient to drought, insects and disease. The mountain pine beetle has also moderately impacted the lodgepole killing trees across the landscape. This forest type is adapted to large disturbances (like wildfire) and this fuels reduction project mimics the ecological effects of a fire through the cutting of live and dead trees. Hundreds of homes belonging to the Town of Blue River and unincorporated Summit County are also present within the forest.
Treatment Design and Prescription
Large wildfires negatively impact wildlife habitat, water quality, infrastructure, and communities. By reducing the volume and connectivity of fuels within the project area, fire intensity will moderate to where firefighters will have a greater opportunity to safely engage in fire suppression activities. Heavy overstory tree removal is an effective, scientifically sound, and ecologically conscious way to create a fuel break in an older, mountain pine beetle impacted lodgepole pine forest. Generally, all dead trees, live lodgepole pine above 5 inches diameter at breast height (DBH), and live lodgepole pine smaller than five inches DBH that are infested with dwarf mistletoe (a native parasitic plant) or otherwise unhealthy will be cut. Aspen, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir will be retained, except in infrequent, individual cases to facilitate operations. Cut material less than 12 inches in diameter will be hand piled for burning. A mosaic of larger wildlife piles will be created throughout the treatment area to provide wildlife habitat.
Hand crews with chainsaws will be used to implement the treatment. Due to poor access and extremely unfavorable topography, the woody material cannot be hauled off site. The hand piles will be burned by the USFS when there is significant snow coverage in the winters following project completion. Wildlife piles will be left.
Impacts to Residents and Recreation
All operations (cutting, piling, etc.) are restricted to 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Spruce Creek and Crystal Lakes Trails are adjacent to treatment units, as well as a complex network of local social trails. Trails will remain open; however, non-official social trails will not have safety flaggers controlling traffic or altering to active operations. The Burro Trail is the only official trail that goes through the treatment units. This trail will be temporarily closed for 30 minutes at a time while felling operations occur next to the trail. Signs will be displayed and flaggers will be controlling recreation traffic during these temporary Burro Trail closures. Do not approach sawyers or workers, as operations and falling trees can cause serious injury or death.
This project is part of the Good Neighbor Authority program between the Colorado State Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service. It is made possible through the Summit County Strong Future Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and U.S. Forest Service. This project adheres to the 2011 Breckenridge Forest Health and Fuels Environmental Assessment and design criteria and was identified as a priority treatment area in the Summit County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
Partners on the project include:
Colorado State Forest Service
United States Forest Service - Dillion Ranger District
Town of Blue River
The Nature Conservancy
This project is being managed by the Colorado State Forest Service. Please contact Project Administrator Bill Wolf with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 887-3121.