|Residents of a community-at-risk attend a town hall meeting addressing the status of a wildfire threatening their homes. Photo by BLM, National Interagency Fire Center.
|Fuels treatments are proactive, reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire from destroying wildlife and watershed health. Photo by BLM, National Interagency Fire Center.
For last decade,across the nation,the BLM fuels program has treated hundreds of thousands of acres of unhealthy forest and rangeland. The primary driver behind a fuels project is the reduction of the risk of wildfire, but the ancillary benefits of work on the ground cannot be ignored. A typical BLM hazardous-fuels-reduction project considers wildlife habitat, watershed, political, social and economic concerns.
Organic by design and development, BLM fuels projects typically start with a community at risk of catastrophic wildfire. During the planning phase a consortium of interests gather to offer input, opinion, research and funding. Consultations with affected interests include wildlife agencies and organizations, homeowner associations, recreationists, conservation groups, power companies, local tribes, elected officials, local unions, ranchers and contractors. This dynamic list of partners varies with location and design. As a result BLM has been able to reinforce multiple positive relationships with local citizens and with other government agencies, leading to increased opportunities for conservation, cooperation, and contracting.
A prime example of multiple benefits, BLM's Big Hollow Project in northern Utah is thinning a thick cover of highly flammable, water-sucking, juniper trees. This proliferation of juniper trees is not only a fuels hazard but is also inhibiting growth of precious wildlife forage in this high-desert terrain. In response, BLM and Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources, with funding from Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative (a 50-group partnership), has initiated a fire-safety plan while addressing wildlife and watershed health.
At the onset, BLM designs fuels-reduction projects, like the Big Hollow project, with adjacent private landowners, conservation land trusts and affected interests. These fuels projects are often in alignment with the mission of conservation organizations. For instance, BLM's fuels-reduction efforts align with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. As a result, the foundation has expressed its appreciation to the West Desert District BLM through in-kind matches, such as seed, labor, sometimes even deer steaks for the hardworking crews.
Where there are fuels projects, there are contracting opportunities. Local ranchers, entrepreneurs and labor crews vie for contracts BLM offers through its fuels-reduction projects. Often the infrastructure in equipment is already in place for rural communities on neighboring public lands. Consequently, jobs increase while energy costs decrease, due to the project proximity, existing equipment and institutional knowledge in place.
The Big Hollow project is just one of many examples of how BLM's fuels program is making a difference — a multiple-use agency delivering multiple benefits to the public it serves.
Erin Darboven's story originally appeared in the fall 2010 edition of BLM's "Matters - Making Ground with Fuels Projects Starting with Strong Community Roots,"a quarterly publication that provides guidance to help educate the public on the importance of fire adapted communities and ecosystems.
BLM's Fire and Aviation Directorate