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The Colorado State Forest Service began forest fuels reduction work the week of February 22 on a community fuel break in the foothills of Methodist Mountain. Contractor Rue Logging, Inc. began thinning trees to reduce wildfire hazard at the Hutchinson Homestead and Learning Center.

Trees are selected for removal to achieve 15 feet of separation between individuals and groups of trees. This reduces the potential intensity of a wildfire in the landscape by decreasing the chance of a fire becoming an active crown fire and traveling between treetops.

500 acres of fire mitigation work (dark pink) is managed by the Colorado State Forest Service, which received required permissions to treat private lands in this area. These lands are connected to completed BLM treatments (light pink) and the Decker Fire burn area outlined in blue — creating a 10-mile-long area of fuel breaks . USFS work on Cleveland Mountain and Poncha Pass (dark pink outline) connects the work to Poncha Pass.

The work also involves a masticator to grind and chop vegetation into small pieces. Mastication allows new grasses and shrubs to grow more quickly due to an increase of light reaching the ground. This is one of the ways overstocked forests stands are tinned to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health.

Landowner and rancher, Art Hutchinson agreed to the forest treatments on 124 acres of the ranch. “A lot of the piñon and juniper trees have grown up over the years and the plants that the elk and deer like to eat are not there anymore for them. P-J [piñon-juniper] forest fires are hot and scary and there are a lot more homes adjacent to the ranch. We are pleased to have been asked to be a part of this project,” said Hutchinson.

The forest treatments that began this week are the first step in the 8,200-acre wildfire mitigation and forest health enrichment project taking place on Methodist Mountain and up Poncha Pass. This project protects the 7,000 people within the Salida and Poncha Springs communities through the creation of  a 10-mile-long area of fuel breaks on both public and private lands in the foothills of the mountain.

By combining federal and state agencies, county and city governments, local fire departments and private landowners, the project came together under the leadership of the Envision Forest Health Council after the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan’s update in 2020.

The project is funded by the national Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s RESTORE Colorado grant program and Chaffee Common Ground along with contributions from the City of Salida and the Town of Poncha Springs.

The Methodist Front improves wildlife habitat for a variety of species such as elk, deer and turkey. It is also protects:

  • The Gold Medal trout waters of the Arkansas River, by reducing the likely intensity of a wildfire in the forests above the South Arkansas River
  • The Harrington and Del Monte ditches
  • Municipal drinking water supplies, agricultural lands and wetlands
  • Power transmission lines and a critical communications site to the south of Highway 50

Forest treatments on nearly 500 acres of the city, state, and privately-owned lands on the Methodist Front are managed by the Salida Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service.  They will connect $1.1 million in treatments on city, state and privately owned lands to create the fuel breaks by the end of 2022. Additional forest acreage that connects the fuel break to the Poncha Pass area is also being treated by the United States Forest Service Salida Ranger District.

Click here to learn more.

Feature image: A rough sketch showing the Methodist Front forest mitigation project shows where treatments are planned to create a community fuel break. Image courtesy of Envision Chaffee County.