The Colorado State Forest Service begins forest fuels reduction work this week on a community fuel break in the foothills of Methodist Mountain, as contractor Rue Logging, Inc. begins to thin trees to reduce wildfire hazard on the Hutchinson Homestead & Learning Center.
Trees are selected for removal to achieve 15 feet of separation between individual and groups of trees, to reduce the potential intensity of a wildfire in the landscape by decreasing the chance of a fire becoming an active crown fire and traveling between tree tops.
The work also involves a masticator to grind and chop vegetation into small pieces. Mastication allows new grasses and shrubs to grow more quickly because more light will reach the ground. This is one of the ways overstocked forest stands are thinned 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 and the cows,” Hutchinson said. “P-J forest 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.”
Forest treatments that began this week are the first step in the 8,200-acre wildfire mitigation and forest health enhancement project taking place on Methodist Mountain and up to Poncha Pass. The project protects the southern flank of the Salida and Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people by creating a 10-mile-long area of fuel breaks on both public and private lands in the foothills of Methodist Mountain.
Combining federal and state agencies, county and city governments, local fire departments, and private landowners like Hutchinson, the project came together quickly under the leadership of the Envision Forest Health Council after the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan update was completed last year. The project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s RESTORE Colorado grant program, Chaffee Common Ground and contributions from the City of Salida and Town of Poncha Springs.
Methodist Front improves wildlife habitat for a variety of species such as elk, deer, turkey and many others. It 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 Herrington and Del Monte ditches
- Municipal drinking water supplies, agricultural lands and wetlands
- Major power transmission lines and a critical communications site to the south of Highway 50
Forest treatments on nearly 500 acres of city, state and privately owned lands on the Methodist Front are managed by the Salida Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service, which has connected the work to complete the fuel break by the end of 2022. Additional forest acreage that connects the fuel break to the Poncha Pass area is already being treated by the U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District.
For more information about the project, visit envisionchaffeecounty.org/salida-poncha-wildfire-mitigation-project-planned