Flood control, reveg already underway at Basalt State Wildlife Area | AspenTimes.com

Flood control, reveg already underway at Basalt State Wildlife Area

A bulldozer pulling an industrial-sized chain breaks up fire-charred ground Tuesday at the Basalt State Wildlife Area.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times


The shooting range at the Basalt State Wildlife Area will remain closed while the agency hosts a public process to discuss its fate.

However, four of the agency’s six shooting ranges in the Northwest Region will reopen by Aug. 17. The Plateau Creek State Wildlife Area shooting range on the Grand Mesa and Byers Canyon shooting range near Hot Sulphur Springs opened after CPW worked with local fire and emergency officials “to ensure fire mitigation features currently in place are satisfactory,” the agency said in a statement.

All shooting ranges in the Northwest Region were closed after the Lake Christine Fire started after illegal use of tracer rounds at Basalt.

The shooting ranges near Hayden opens today while the facility near Rifle will open Aug. 17.

The Cameo Shooting and Education Complex temporary range and the Basalt range will remain closed.

CPW is hosting public meetings in Basalt on Aug. 21 and 27 to give everyone a chance to voice opinions on management practices or whether the local range should remain open or close. Both meetings are at Basalt High School. The Aug. 21 meeting will start at 7 p.m. The Aug. 27 meeting will start at 6 p.m.

Even as the firefighting effort continues on upper slopes of Basalt Mountain, rehabilitation of the burn-scarred terrain is underway down near the point of origin.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is using heavy equipment to undertake a variety of tasks — break up charred terrain so it absorbs rain better, use an industrial aerator and spreading seed to speed re-vegetation, and building diversions at strategic spots to prevent flooding and debris flows.

“We want the community to know we’re not sitting back on our butts doing nothing,” said Perry Will, wildlife manager for area 8, which includes the Basalt State Wildlife Area.

The wildlife area includes the shooting range, where the fire started July 3 when two people were allegedly illegally firing tracer rounds.

“We want the community to know we’re not sitting back on our butts doing nothing.” — Perry Will, CPW

Parks and Wildlife owns more than 2,000 acres of land above Basalt and stretching toward El Jebel on the ridge and benches above the valley floor. A lot of that ground is prime habitat for big game and smaller animals. The fire swept through the wildlife area above Basalt in the opening hours of the fire. CPW suffered the loss of a tractor and $63,000 worth of irrigation pipe. Workers were able to remove millions of dollars worth of other heavy equipment.

Will said the agency’s first concern with rehabilitation is reducing the potential impact of flooding and debris flows on its land and private property below.

There are some steps they intuitively know they can take — a series of check dams have been created in a shallow gulch before it naturally turns into a deeper gash that heads toward the valley floor. Will said there are four or five such gulches he is concerned about.

Additional diversion structures will be constructed once the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, advises the CPW on steps that can be taken, Will said. An initial assessment is expected this month.

CPW is raking some of the rougher landscape with a bulldozer that pulls a chain with heavy, foot-long links. That “chaining” removes burned brush and rocks. It also breaks up a film or crust on the top that sheds water. Breaking that top layer up makes the landscape more receptive to rain and so it can be seeded.

On gentler landscape, a tractor pulls a large aerator — a bigger version of the tool used on lawns, this one with teeth 4 inches long.

“That thing works for getting water in the ground,” Will said.

Another tractor follows with a drill planter — a special variation of planters that farmers use — and spreads seed for grasses, sagebrush, serviceberry, bitter brush and alfalfa. CPW could have left the re-vegetation to Mother Nature, but the agency assist will help reduce weeds and ensure that what comes back is useful for big game.

As of Tuesday, about 400 acres had been reseeded.

“We’ll do a lot more,” Will said.

On steeper slopes that cannot be seeded, Will hopes CPW can economically rent a hydro-axe, a machine that can pulverize the charred skeletons of pinion and juniper trees and leave the chips behind to ease erosion.

The open lands of the Basalt State Wildlife Area are popular with hikers and hunters. They will likely be reopened this fall, Will said, though hunting won’t be very good since so much of the landscape is clear of vegetation. The shooting range remains closed.