Letter: Bringing fire back to the land
On May 14, the Forest Service successfully completed a prescribed fire in the Hunter Creek Valley just outside Aspen city limits. People noticed there was smoke in the air, and I imagine a few hikers and bikers were disappointed they had spend a sunny day elsewhere, but other than that, there wasn’t much to write home about. In the world of prescribed fire and especially one so close to Aspen, it doesn’t get much better than that. Kudos to all the Forest Service employees who helped conduct the fire and those who spent months of work planning it.
To be clear, there was plenty to write home about in terms of how the fire impacted the landscape in Hunter Creek. Over 900 acres were burnt, and Forest Service biologists were more than pleased with the “fire effects,” the mix of impacts to vegetation that will shortly translate into a mosaic of new growth mixed with older trees and shrubs that provide great food and habitat for animals in the valley.
Wilderness Workshop is thrilled with both the on-the-ground results and the apparent acceptance of prescribed fire by the community, even in a location so close to a town and private property. If we can do it in Hunter Creek, we should be able to conduct prescribed fires just about anywhere in the valley. And fortunately the Forest Service has already analyzed and approved nearly 25,000 acres for prescribed fire in the Roaring Fork watershed. As we have in the past, we’ll continue to advocate for the use of this important restoration tool on the forest.
And speaking of the past, five years ago when the Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan was first proposed by For the Forest (now the forest program at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies), the focus was on stopping a forest disturbance, the mountain pine beetle outbreak, not deliberately creating one. Natural disturbances in the forest, like fire, blow-downs and insect outbreaks, while often less than aesthetic, create critical habitat for numerous species and result in openings in the forest where new growth can occur. With this in mind, Wilderness Workshop successfully advocated for prescribed fire to be included in the set of actions authorized by the plan. At the time, there was little appetite for prescribed fire in Hunter Creek, given several dry years and the proximity to Aspen. Fortunately, though, the Forest Service soon saw the plan as an opportunity, and with financial backing from ACES, the city, the county and Wilderness Workshop, the fire came to fruition.
We are thrilled to be a part of the team that worked so hard to bring fire back to the upper Roaring Fork Valley. We’re proud of both our initial advocacy for inclusion of prescribed fire in the Hunter-Smuggler plan and our work as part of the team that educated the public about the burn in the months before it happened. And we’re already beginning work to find resources to conduct additional burns in years to come.
Conservation director, Wilderness Workshop