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Durango zeros in on 10 areas for fire mitigation

Community meeting planned for March 31
Mark Loveall, supervisory forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, and Amy Schwarzbach, city of Durango natural resources manager, look over a clump of Gambel oak and trees in Overend Mountain Park in January. The city and its partners have identified 10 top priority areas for fire mitigation in 2021.

The city of Durango and its partners will focus 2021 fire mitigation efforts on 10 different areas in Dalla Mountain Park, Horse Gulch and Overend Mountain Park.

The land, totaling 36 acres, makes up key sites where fire mitigation is needed and could help control future fires, according to the Fire Adapted Durango Partnership. The partnership and its mitigation efforts were born out of the 416 Fire – a new, collaborative way to address fire risk around Durango.

“The goal in these zones is to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading out of control,” said Amy Schwarzbach, Durango natural resources manager, during a City Council study session Tuesday. “So in some of these areas, the safest thing to do is reduce how tall flame lengths would be, alter how fire would behave, and then continue our planning over the future years.”

The Fire Adapted Durango Partnership consists of groups that share boundaries with city open space and are trying to coordinate their fire management efforts. Those eight entities include land managers such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, utilities, fire agencies and Durango residents.

The partnership zeroed in on 6 linear miles of city boundaries by looking at the vulnerability of plant life, how different landscapes might shape fire behavior and where a fire could affect public infrastructure or neighborhoods.

This year, the partners plan to mitigate 36 acres: 10.2 at Dalla Mountain Park, 13.2 at Overend Mountain Park, 4.7 at Animas City Mountain and 7.9 at Horse Gulch. In 2020, they mitigated 9.6 acres at Horse Gulch.

The city of Durango’s 2021 fire mitigation map.

Part of the reason the partners chose those areas is because they are next to 215 homes, apartment buildings and other structures that would be at risk if a fire were to spread out of control, Schwarzbach said.

Hal Doughty, fire chief of the Durango Fire Protection District, said community members might have concerns that the project will clear-cut all growth, remove privacy screening offered by plant life, diminish wildlife habitat and cut down all the trees.

“That really is not the case,” Doughty said.

The mitigation teams aim to balance removing fire-prone plant life, or “fuels,” with the aesthetic value, privacy screening and erosion control offered by remaining plant life, said Mark Loveall, supervisory forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, another member of the partnership.

“Vegetation for wildfire hazard mitigation is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking,” he said.

While the city can take on mitigation work on public lands, private landowners have an important role to play, said Charlie Landsman, La Plata County coordinator with another partner, the Wildfire Adapted Partnership.

The Wildfire Adapted Partnership can offer one-on-one consultations to help landowners develop an action plan, Landsman said.

The city plans to ask companies to bid on the 10 projects in March and April so the mitigation work can start as soon as the snow melts and the land is ready.

Interested members of the public can learn more about the city’s plans at a virtual meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 31. A link to the meeting is available at DurangoGov.org/zoom.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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