Vail’s Cordillera fighting fire threat aggressively
September 7, 2009
VAIL, Colo. – With the annual wildfire season in full swing, one of the Vail area’s most upscale neighborhoods, Cordillera, continues to aggressively confront the threats of wildfires and pine beetles.
More than 23,000 dead, dying and/or hazardous trees have been removed from private properties and open spaces within Cordillera’s boundaries since 2006, when the community began its multiyear wildfire program. It was the first privately funded operation of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region, and to date, members of the Cordillera Property Owners Association have spent more than $3.5 million on the project.
“Cordillera, by creating defensible space around every property, is a great example for other communities in the Vail Valley, and elsewhere,” said Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation Manager Eric Lovgren. “They’ve been great on all fronts and should be commended.”
Nestled high above the Vail Valley on more than 7,000 acres of ranch land bordering the White River National Forest, Cordillera is surrounded by vast forests of pine, fir and spruce and groves of aspen.
The recent outbreak of the mountain pine beetle, however, has killed millions of lodgepole pines throughout the region, increasing fire danger far beyond that posed by the annual growth of healthy vegetation where human development meets the forest.
In 2005, Cordillera received designation as a Firewise community, part of the Firewise Communities/USA recognition program that enables communities to protect against fire and balance their ecosystems.
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The following year, Cordillera launched its three-pronged wildfire mitigation program, which includes removing trees infected and/or killed by pine beetles; spraying healthy trees annually to prevent infection; and clearing deadfall, brush and other combustible fuels for wildfire up to 210 feet from homes and other structures. To date, in addition to clearing the more than 23,000 dead and/or infected trees, Cordillera has treated many healthy trees – sprayings total more than 25,000 – in hopes of warding off the pest.
“We’re getting an amazing amount of support from the homeowners,” said Cordillera Healthy Forest project manager Bill Wentworth. “There’s a lot to do removing many tons of material from their properties, but most of them understand the risk in not doing so.”
Many Cordillera homeowners who are residents of Colorado are helping defray their costs by taking advantage of yearly tax rebates of up to $2,500, and the Cordillera Metro District has applied about $52,000 in other state funding for fire mitigation to the project, Wentworth added.
Cordillera Public Safety Director Bob Egizi said he expects the wildfire mitigation efforts, originally planned to last five years, to continue indefinitely. Cordillera works closely with the Colorado Department of Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to research and coordinate a complete regeneration of the natural landscape. Those efforts include obliterating temporary logging roads and planting seeds from plants native to the community itself.
“Wildfire mitigation concerns all homeowners, affects all kinds of vegetation and involves an enormous amount of resources,” Egizi said. “Afterward, it’s important to leave the terrain in condition to grow back naturally.”
Cordillera and its contractors try to reuse as much of the material removed from the properties as possible, Egizi said. Timber and logs are transported to mills in Montrose, Kremmling and Walden, where they are converted to lumber and pellets; and the slash, mainly treetops and branches, is chipped on-site and shipped to a factory on the Front Range, where it’s converted to landscaping material.
“This is a massive undertaking for a private community, and the cooperation has been encouraging. We’re all determined to emerge with a healthy, thriving forest,” said Ellen Mitchell, president of the Cordillera Metropolitan District. “We hope that by taking an extremely aggressive, proactive approach we can minimize the beetle’s devastating effects and give areas a chance to regenerate.”
For more information about Cordillera’s wildfire mitigation efforts, call Egizi or Wentworth at 970-926-1923. For more information about Firewise Communities/USA, visit http://www.firewise.org/usa. For more information about Cordillera, visit http://www.cordilleracolorado.com.