By Cam Hooley
Special to The SUN
The San Juan National Forest (SJNF) has implemented forest-wide Stage 3 fire closure that began Tuesday, which prohibits most entry into the forest.
Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs remain under Stage 2 fire restrictions.
The purpose of the first-ever closure of the SJNF is to protect natural resources and public safety due to the danger of wildland fire. Fire danger on the SJNF remains very high due to exceptional drought and fuel conditions. The closure order will remain in effect until the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions.
The closure order will prohibit entry into the SJNF, including entry by the general public, most administrative entry by Forest Service employees, and most uses authorized under Forest Service permits and contracts.
This means that forest campgrounds, day use areas, roads and trails will be closed, including wilderness areas, and that hiking, dispersed camping and other recreational activities are prohibited. Exemptions might be granted on a case-by-case basis with a written authorization from the Forest Service, which would include specific requirements for fire prevention.
Exemptions must be requested from the district ranger. Federal, state or local officers conducting specific duties are exempt.
The SJNF covers 1.8 million acres within the Dolores Ranger District, the Columbine Ranger District and the Pagosa Ranger District across nine counties in southwestern Colorado. County and state roads and U.S. highways that cross Forest Service lands will not be affected by this order. Ongoing road closures due to the 416 Fire will continue to be managed by the La Plata County sheriff. Businesses in local communities will remain open for business during the forest closure at their discretion.
SJNF Supervisor Kara Chadwick wants concerned citizens to know that instituting a forest closure is an extremely difficult decision and she is aware that the closure will affect a great many people, businesses, partner agencies, forest management activities and the public.
Forest managers use several criteria to determine when to implement restrictions and closures, including fuel moistures, current and predicted weather, values at risk from wildfire, fire activity levels and available firefighting resources.
The SJNF implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions on May 1, then Stage 2 fire restrictions on June 1, but conditions continued to worsen.
“The indices our fire team uses to predict fire danger are at historic levels well before we can expect any significant moisture from the seasonal monsoons,” SJNF Forest Fire Staff Officer Richard Bustamante said. “Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark could cause a catastrophic wildfire and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care, or with human life and property.”
Violating Stage 3 fire restrictions or going into a closed area carries a mandatory appearance in federal court and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
The signed closure order will be posted on the SJNF website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/sanjuan/home. You can also follow @SanJuanNF on Facebook and Twitter.
For more information, please contact the SJNF supervisor’s office at 247-4874, Dolores Ranger District at 882-7296, Columbine Ranger District at 884-2512 or the Pagosa Ranger District at 264-2268.
To report a fire on federal lands, please contact the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center at 385-1324.
By Cam Hooley