416 Fire Field Trips

Durango, Colorado - The 416 Fire burned approximately 54,000 acres this summer and significantly altered the Hermosa landscape.  Until the area receives a significant precipitation event, the 416 Fire is considered to be contained, but not controlled and the corresponding area closure will remain in effect. Therefore, the Columbine Ranger District is offering 3 guided public field trips that will be accompanied by qualified fire fighters.  Each field trip will be capped at 15 people and the group will be escorted into the burn area.  The following is a list of the field trips offered:

October 1 - Champion Tree Hike - Strenuous.  All Day- This trip will leave from the Lower Hermosa campground and go to Dutch Creek. Approximately 9-10 miles round trip, depending on trail conditions and potential for eroded trails.  During this hike we will visit some of the Colorado State Champion Trees. 

October 2 – Bike and Hike - Moderate-strenuous.  All Day - This trip will take mountain bikers (participants supply their own bike) from Upper Hermosa trailhead and ride to the burn perimeter.  Bikes will be left at the fire perimeter and the group will hike a few miles into the burn, depending on trail conditions and safety concerns.

October 13 – Old Growth Walk - Moderate 9- 2 pm. This trip will start from Lower Hermosa campground and hike approximately 2 -3 miles to see some of the ponderosa pine old growth in the burn area. 

The 416 Fire is the largest fire to impact our area since the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002.  Fire is a natural part of our ecosystem and is important for forest health and resilience, however, it is also a force that can drastically impact communities and ecosystems.  The Hermosa landscape has changed as a result of the fire and this is an opportunity to see firsthand some of those changes.  Moving forward, we hope we can use this fire as an opportunity to deepen our understanding of fire in our local ecosystems, and how we interact with it.

To sign up for a field trip please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 970-385-1219.  The trips are first come/first serve and space is limited. Participants should wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring water, lunch snacks and a hat.  Bikers will need to bring their own bikes and appropriate gear. Please sign up for only one field trip.  For more information, please contact Gretchen Fitzgerald, 970-385-1219, Acting Public Affairs Officer, or Columbine Ranger District 970-884-2512.

USDA Forest Service seeks public comment on improving management of mineral, oil, and gas resources

SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 AT 9:00 AM EDT - WASHINGTON, DC – Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service published Advance Notices announcing its plan to revise two parts of the agency’s locatable mineral regulations.  The Forest Service seeks public comment on its work to improve outdated and inefficient regulations for locatable minerals(link is external) and oil and gas resources on national forest lands.

“This is one of many efforts that our agency is undertaking to focus on our priority of regulatory reform,” said interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “Our goal is to make our processes as simple and efficient as possible while ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations.”

In fiscal year 2017, over $1.2 billion dollars’ worth of oil and gas were produced from National Forest System lands, resulting in payments to local, state and federal governments of approximately $145 million, creating significant value for many communities. Outdated regulations are still a barrier however.  For example, there is a backlog of nearly 2,000 pending Expressions of Interest in leasing oil and gas on about 2 million acres.  Updated regulations and procedures are needed to ensure the Forest Service and stakeholders have an efficient process to support local economies and protect and conserve valuable environmental resources.

Locatable minerals produced from National Forest System lands are important for medical and infrastructure development as well as cars and common household items, including appliances, smart phones, and computers. Forest Service economists estimate that the revenue generated from mining locatable minerals topped $1 billion in 2016 and supported more than 1,500 direct and 5,500 indirect jobs.

“We want to strengthen communities and provide jobs,” said Christiansen. “At the same time, we are committed to protecting water supplies, supporting aquatic and wildlife habitat, and ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations.”

The public has until October 15, 2018 to comment on two Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking published in the Federal Register. One notice addresses locatable minerals and the other oil and gas resources. Instructions about how to comment are included in the Federal Register notices: 36 CFR part 228 subpart A(link is external) and 36 CFR part 228, subpart E(link is external).

For more information about USDA Forest Service, visit http://www.fs.fed.us.

Prescribed burns planned on the Rio Grande National Forest

The San Luis Valley Interagency Fire Management Unit plans to conduct several prescribed burns this autumn on the Rio Grande National Forest providing there are favorable weather and fuel moisture conditions.

The planned burns include:

  • Buffalo Pass. Located on the Saguache Ranger District, one mile south of Buffalo Pass Campground. This 580 acre burn would reduce fuels and improve deer and elk habitat.
  • English Valley. Located five miles north of Del Norte on the Divide Ranger District. The purpose of this 1000 acre burn is to improve forage for pronghorn.
  • Conejos Canyon. Located one mile north of Fox Creek on the Conejos Peak Ranger District. The 200 acre burn will reduce fuels and improve habitat for elk and deer.
  • Alamaditas. This will be a 500 acre prescribed burn 14 miles west of Romeo on the Conejos Peak Ranger District. The purpose of the burn is to reduce fuels and improve habitat for elk and deer.
  • Bighorn/State line. Located six miles southwest of Mogote on the Conejos Peak Ranger District. The purpose of this 1,220 acre burn is to reduce fuels and improve habitat for elk and deer.

Residents and visitors will likely see smoke coming from these area for several hours each day during burn operations. Burn area maps will be posted on the roads leading into the project areas and local residents will be contacted prior to initiation of the prescribed burns. 

Prescribed fire smoke may affect your health. For more information see https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/wood-smoke-and-health.

For more information concerning the planned prescribed burns, contact the Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 719-852-5941.

USDA FS Fire Management Outcome-based Strategy

The following is a link to the USDA FS fire management outcome-based strategy:

https://www.fs.fed.us/sites/default/files/toward-shared-stewardship.pdf 

RGNF Forest Plan Revision Update

Where have we been?

It has been a while since we updated you on the Rio Grande Forest Plan revision. Here is what we have been up to and what to expect in the coming months. 

The public comment period for the draft forest plan and draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) ended in December 2017. As a result we received over 450 letters. About 220 of these were form letters, and around 40 were received after the close of the comment period. Each and every letter has been read and reviewed for substantive comments on the draft forest plan and environmental impact statement.

Letters that arrived after the close of the comment period were read and incorporated into the comment responses. However, letters submitted outside of the specified timeframes may affect the sender’s ability to participate in the objection process.

Any letters that were specific to concerns outside of the forest plan revision effort were forwarded to the appropriate staff.

What did we do?

When reading the letters, comments were identified and categorized by resource topics. Similar comments were then combined. Next resource specialists prepared responses to the comments identified. Some comments required additional explanation in the plan or analysis, while others required clarification. All of the comments and their responses will be included in an appendix to the final environmental impact statement.

What did we hear?

Letters and comments covered a wide variety of topics. A recurring comment addressed how desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and management approaches were formatted based on 2012 planning rule direction. We considered all the plan components and worked to clarify the intent of the direction by rephrasing, rewording, or moving plan components. The results should present direction that is clearer to both the Agency and the public.

A collaborative study regarding response of Canada lynx to beetle kill in the spruce-fir ecosystems was referenced on pages 210 through 211 of the DEIS. The study had been initiated but not yet completed when the draft plan and DEIS were made publically available. The study investigated how Canada lynx are responding to mortality in the spruce fir ecosystem. Preliminary results of this study are now available. Summaries of this study can be found at  https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/landmanagement/projects/?cid=fseprd479410. We considered these site specific results in addition to comments received to adjust forest plan lynx direction. Consultation with US Fish and Wildlife Service on threatened and endangered species is ongoing. Plan components relative to Canada Lynx will be based on public comments, the study, and the outcome of the ongoing consultation.

What to expect in the future?

Loose ends are still being wrapped up and when completed we will post a final environmental impact statement, a final forest plan, and a draft record of decision to the website. The notice of availability of these documents is expected to be published in the Federal Register and in the Valley Courier in early 2019.

The objection filing period begins when the documents are released. The objection process, allows individuals and entities to file an objection to the decision before the decision is finalized. The process allows participants 60 days to file objections.  After the close of the objection period, the Agency has 90 days to meet with objectors and work to resolve objections. There are two potential objection opportunities when revising a forest plan. Objections related to the final environmental impact statement will be reviewed by the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester. Objections specific to the species of conservation concern list will be reviewed by the Chief of the Forest Service. To be eligible to object, you must have submitted formal comment between September and December 2017.

Those interested in how the objections are resolved may participate during objection meetings as Interested Persons. Interested persons must file to participate within 10-days of the notice of objection.

The previous Forest Planner, Erin Minks, has left the Agency and Judi Pérez is now leading the revision effort. Judi had previously been assisting the project, but she recently took over as team leader. If you need further clarification please contact Judi at (719) 852-6240.

More information on the forest plan revision effort can be found on the Forest webpage at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/landmanagement/projects/?cid=stelprd3819044

More Articles ...