From CWPP Recommendation to Implementation on the Ground in Colorado
Firefighters from the Stonewall Fire Protection District help thin the forest at North Lake State Wildlife Area. Photo: CSFS.
Nestled in the mountains 35 miles from Trinidad, Colorado lies the North Lake State Wildlife Area. A recreation mecca, the area is also a part of a large watershed that delivers fresh water for Trinidad's municipal, industrial, agricultural and other uses.
“A catastrophic wildfire within this watershed would in all likelihood negatively impact water quality and delivery infrastructure, affecting thousands of people within Las Animas County,” said Mark Loveall, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) La Veta District.
Through a project that stemmed from a 2014 Community Wildfire Protection Plan, firefighters from the Stonewall Fire Protection District have been hand-thinning the forest at North Lake State Wildlife Area by removing unhealthy, suppressed and dying trees, as well as trees in overly dense stands.
The main goal of the project is to protect the water quality of the North Fork of the Purgatoire River watershed, which supplies water to Trinidad and almost 85 percent of Las Animas County residents.
Forests that have become unhealthy and overly dense can set the stage for exceptionally intense, devastating wildfires that directly impact water supplies by introducing ash, soot and other contaminants into waterways, and increasing erosion and resulting sedimentation downstream. But active forest management, including forest thinning to reduce fuels and create fuel breaks, can mitigate wildfire concerns and resulting watershed impacts.
The project is a collaboratively supported effort between the Colorado State Forest Service, the Stonewall Fire Protection District, Colorado's Department of Natural Resources Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Program, the City of Trinidad, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Spanish Peaks/Purgatoire River Conservation District and the Bar NI Community Service Fund.
This project highlights a number of Cohesive Strategy behaviors including a strong Community Wildfire Protection Plan; restoring resilient landscapes to protect watersheds, communities and future firefighting efforts; collaborating with a diverse stakeholder group to get this project from a recommended action to implementation on the ground; and continued communication with the local public to help them understand what living with wildland fire is all about.