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Prescribed burns are on hold

Last Friday, deputy regional forester Brian Ferebee put in place a two-week moratorium for all 14.5 million acres of national forest in Colorado.

The prescribed burn moratorium was due to both dry and windy weather conditions and the diversion of forest crews to suppress wildfires.

“The weather conditions have been hot and dry,” said Steve Segin, Forest Service regional public affairs specialist. Segin explained that, in addition to the weather conditions not being adequate for prescribed burns in most of the areas, the moratorium was also put in place to “better allocate resources.

“The same resources that districts use for prescribed burns are the same resources used for initial attack and first responders,” Segin said.

In last week’s edition of The SUN, the Pagosa Ranger District announced five burns to take place in Archuleta County over the coming weeks: Piedra Aerial, Horsefly, Youth Camp, Mesa Pedregosa and Brockover. With the moratorium in place, these five burns will all be on hold.

“It could affect us,” said Scott Wagner, fuels forester for the Pagosa Ranger District.

Wagner said that the Pagosa Ranger District is continuing to monitor three burn areas. According to Wagner, on those three sites, both fuels and ground conditions are ready.

“We were waiting for the right weather,” Wagner said. The snow Archuleta County received on Monday would possibly have an effect on burn conditions and windows.

“Typically we wouldn’t be burning this early in April,” Wagner said, however, he continued, spring came early in 2012.

Though the moratorium is in place, Wagner said district personnel will continue to monitor conditions and watch the weather, and if they see a burn window line up, the district will start doing things to get ready for the prescribed burn, but will go no further, and take no action, until the prescribed burn moratorium has been lifted.

“If it gets too dry, we may have missed an opportunity,” Wagner said.

Segin said that after this two-week moratorium period passes, the weather conditions will be looked at, the storm systems analyzed and the moratorium reevaluated. He continued to say, though, that if weather conditions remain hot and dry, the burn window for spring will most likely be lost, and prescribed burns in most areas will be postponed until fall. And then again, only if weather conditions allow for a burn window.

According to the press release in last week’s SUN, the objectives of prescribed burns are: return fire as a natural process to ecosystems, reduce ground and ladder fuels to decrease the risk of crown fires, improve wildlife habitat, recycle nutrients and consume debris left over from thinning projects.

Wagner continued to say that since Pagosa District has several prescribed burn areas at varying elevations, if the lower elevations are too dry, personnel can concentrate on the higher elevation area where patches of snow are still present.

Prescribed burn moratoriums are not common, not in Region 2. Segin does not recall a formal, statewide moratorium ever going into effect. If weather conditions don’t permit prescribed burns, then districts won’t burn, Segin said, thus moratoriums were not needed. Segin explained, though, that each district has a target number of acres to be treated each year. With a moratorium in place, prescribed burning is “taken off the table,” and allows districts grace in meeting that target. In the meantime, their resources, such as fire crews, may be allocated to where they are needed.

In two weeks, the moratorium will be reevaluated. At that time in Pagosa District, some of the higher altitude burn areas may experience weather conditions permitting a prescription burn.

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