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Proposed wildfire mitigation project would treat 3K acres around Vail; public input welcome

Pitkin Creek Travil in Vail_SButzer.jpg
Posted at 11:41 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 13:45:51-05

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — If approved, a project would reduce hazardous natural fuels across more than 3,000 acres adjacent to the Town of Vail.

The Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest, along with Vail Fire & Emergency Services, has shared details of the Booth Creek Fuels Reduction Project, and is inviting residents to a public meeting in April to learn more.

The project covers a 3,605-acre area — though 3,059 would actually be treated — north of Interstate 70 from Red Sandstone Road in Vail east to include Gore Creek Campground past east Vail, plus a small section on the south side of the highway on the easternmost side. It includes the Eagles Nest Wilderness and three Colorado Roadless Areas. Crews would not need to build any temporary or permanent roads, and would avoid using motorized vehicles as much as possible. Some helicopters and unmanned aircraft may help in places with rugged terrain, according to the project.

Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis said the fuels in this area have built up for more than a century due to lack of wildfire and downed trees from insects and disease. In addition, the boom in development and human activity around Vail has increased the likelihood of a human-caused wildfire, according to the project's notice of proposed action (NOPA).

“The fuel reduction work we are proposing would help reduce the risk of wildfire to the Town of Vail and give firefighters space to more effectively engage a future wildfire," Veldhuis said.

READ MORE: All of Denver7's wildfire coverage

The treatment options include prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, and hand treatments to reduce the fuel amounts on the National Forest land. Below is the proposed plan for each area. The shaded areas were previously identified as areas of concern in the 2020 Vail Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Both Creek Fuels Treatment Project_U.S. Forest Service

The region "contains values at risk including schools, Interstate 70, municipal water infrastructure, recreation infrastructure, a communications site, and developed private property," according to the NOPA.

You can find an in-depth breakdown of what to expect in each treatment unit in the NOPA. A brief description of each is below.

Vail wildfire mitigation_notice of proposed action

Organizers acknowledged in the NOPA that smoke may be a concern for residents in the area. However, air quality emissions from prescribed burning are typically less severe than natural or human-caused fires. It would have short-term impacts on the air quality. Project leaders would create a specific smoke management plan ahead of time, which would be pre-approved by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, according to the NOPA.

The project organizers said crews would also survey the areas ahead of time to locate any endangered or sensitive plant species.

The U.S. Forest Service and Vail Fire & Emergency Services are working together to reduce the risk of wildfires around Vail, and in turn, improve firefighter safety in the area's wildland urban interface.

The public is welcome to attend a public meeting to learn more about the proposal on April 6 from 5-7 p.m. at the Grand View Room in Vail, located at 395 E. Lionshead Circle. Residents' comments will help the Forest Service further develop the proposed action, potential alternatives, and complete an environmental assessment. Comments must be submitted by May 3, 2022. If the Forest Service finds that there are no significant impacts, their findings will be published, along with the assessment, for a 45-day objection period.

Click here to learn more about the project.