Common Ground supports creation of community fuel breaks

Forest mitigation work creates areas to fight wildfires, support evac and improve wildlife habitat

Chaffee County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan identifies two top treatment priority areas where community fuel breaks will be created. Poncha-Salida South is the location of the Methodist Front project and Antero denotes the general location of Coyote Valley Road.

Common Ground investments in wildfire mitigation and forest restoration projects will create two community fuel breaks in Chaffee County in the coming years.

The projects are designed by the Envision Forest Health Council, a group of more than 20 community leaders working to implement the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The plan was approved in February 2020 to increase the past rate of treatments and reduce overall community risk of the effects of a wildfire.

The two projects are among top treatment priority areas identified in the plan, which uses computer modeling to map wildfire risk and identify the right areas to treat for the highest cost efficiency and community benefit.

A 10-mile-long area of fuel breaks in the foothills of Methodist Mountain will protect the Salida and Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people. The Methodist Front project connects to the 2019 Decker Fire burn area and extends across the mountain to the west and up to Poncha Pass, an important ingress and egress route for the entire county. Work on the fuel break began in 2020 and is ongoing.

Increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires across the state is due dense, unhealthy forests and drought coupled with warmer temperatures and larger wind events. At the same time, population growth and development in the wildland-urban interface creates a critical public health and safety problem, not just a forest health issue. The Forest Health Council is working to treat up to 30,000 acres of both public and private lands by 2030, to halve the risk wildfire poses to the community. 

The second fuel break is located in the center of the county across from Hecla Junction. The 2-mile-long break will be created in 2021 along Coyote Valley Road to provide safer firefighter access in the event of a wildfire in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness to the west. It also will improve egress for residents and visitors and protect structures in the surrounding area. The fuel break ties into future and previously completed mitigation work by the U.S. Forest Service on more than 6,000 acres to the west. 

Both projects benefit wildlife because thinning the dense forest over-story improves habitat by allowing sunlight to reach the ground so that new shrubs and grasses grow, thereby providing better cover and forage for animals.

The Methodist Front project protects municipal water supplies as well as the Gold Medal Trout Waters of the Arkansas River, by reducing the likely intensity of a wildfire in the forests above the “Little Ark.”

Methodist Front protects municipal water supplies as well as the Gold Medal Trout Waters of the Arkansas River, by reducing the likely intensity of a wildfire in the forests above the “Little Ark” river. The water system includes two important ditches that serve wetlands and agricultural operations in the valley and beyond. The work also protects power lines and communications sites located in the Methodist foothills and on Poncha Pass.

Common Ground invested roughly $700,000 over three years in these two projects, which include matching and in-kind funding from local, state and federal sources. Work on private lands managed by the Colorado State Forest Service will be completed by 2022. The U.S. Forest Service plans to finish public land treatments soon after, weather and other management factors pending.

Landowners in both project areas are encouraged to advance the number of acres treated by participating in Chaffee Chips, a Common Ground-supported program that coordinates neighborhood slash removal and chipping services.

Read more Stories of Impact from Chaffee Common Ground.