As owners of Step Outdoors, LLC we continue to advocate for individuals to be active and involved in what happens on their public lands. Educate yourself. Define your opinion. Share your input with the agencies who are asking your opinion.
Public comment for the Pagosa District Prescribed Burning Analysis has been made available with three primary issues noted.
At the time of this public comment we are in the middle of December with no snowpack and no snow forecasted in the immediate future. We are a community that has chosen not to affect any industry other than tourism. Presently, we are concluding, yet another national costly fire season for both acres burned and public property destroyed. Furthermore, we as a community have chosen to not establish limitations on expansion into the Wilderness Interface Zone and there is minimal self-accountable to the costs associated with living in this landscape. Lastly, there is a growing expectation that the government will protect personal property in lieu of defining defensible space and supporting efforts for more definition of defensible space.
Realistically, we can plan on paying for fire now or later and we are in support of the proposal action (Alternative 2). But, we would like to share that support by incorporating our initial comments from the scoping process.
The United States Forest Service has within its authority and responsibility to care for our forests and to provide lumber for industry. In addition, the forest offers recreational opportunities which is a booming tourist attraction that amounts to roughly 887 billion dollars annual nationwide. Pagosa Springs is a community which values its worth on the tourist industry in lieu of vying for any other economy.
The Pagosa San Juan National Forest backyard consists of both the South San Juan Wilderness Area as well as the Weminuche Wilderness Area. With over 687-miles of trail that accommodates various user groups and 102-trails to which those users can choose, it is imperative that our district make a concerted effort to assist with the protection of the public lands as well as educate the public to their value and what homeowners, locals and visitors can do to assist with its protection. What we cannot continue to see is an increase of fire dollars being used to “put out” or “suppress” fires as these monies take away from the other budgetary needs of the forest service and district.
We are in favor of a more assertive prescribed burning, even a schedule that goes beyond the “first few years of implementation is to burn 2,000 to 5,000 acres annually …”. With this, we also expect that the forest service would take a position that encourages homeowners located within the wilderness interface and/or adjoining the prescribed burning or cutting area, to take a more proactive approach to the fire protection of their property. We cannot expect, nor should we expect, the United States Forest Service to protect our personal property if we have not made a concerted effort to maintain defensible space and wildfire preparedness.
For implementation of the program I would encourage community meetings with homeowners in the proximity to which a prescribed burn is planned. This holds homeowners accountable for their own knowledge and awareness of the efforts for fire crews to reduce fuels, gives the forest service a face to the project, provides opportunity to educate on what homeowners can do personally (might be good to encourage the assistance of FireWise). When done well, this communication provides continued support for the overall program and outreach of the forest service.
Specifically, with regard to the primary issues noted:
1. Smoke (including concerns about the negative health impacts of smoke, as well as the negative impacts of smoke to tourism, recreation, and public uses of National Forest System (NFS) lands)
2. Scale and Effectiveness of Treatments
3. Impacts to Cultural Resources
Smoke. Pursuant to previous supporting documentation of the Pagosa Ranger District, it is anticipated that average burns would last 7-10 calendar days with a maximum of 5,000-annual-burned-acres. During this time, any prescribed burns will be actively managed. Over the past three years we have noticed minimal smoke impact from the prescribed burns that have been initiated by the district. Most of the planned fire zones are in proximity to more substantial residential areas that could see a greater impact to personal safety and property if a full-blown fire were to transpire. While it might be uncomfortable, we believe the long-term benefits significantly outweigh the temporary discomfort associated with smoke.
We believe it acceptable, and fair, that certain times be delineated for prescribed burning and to use the opportunity to educate the community through regular updates and actual show-and-tell areas for the community to acquaint themselves with the process, implications and outcome. The tourism component can be mitigated by the same education process and a more assertive effort to show other locations within the San Juan National Forest where they can go for recreational pursuit.
We would not be in support of a full summer season of prescribed burning.
Scale and Effectiveness of Treatments. We are not knowledgeable in the best methods but do value the expertise of the individuals who are. We have seen first hand the effectiveness of mechanical treatment. That process is also costly and time consuming and while it might not have the impact of local smoke it has an impact through the soundscape.
Obviously, we would be in support of multiple small’ish scale acreage burn that is managed and controlled with additional parcels added as the weather, safety of crew and seasonality permit.
Cultural Resources. Our cultural resources require the same protection through mitigation of expansive fires that can denude the landscape.
Though not a cultural resource, our community is an economy and the home for several thousand individuals. Protection of our rural landscape is best garnered by making improvements and employing practices for its long-term protection. That protection includes not just homes, but the livelihood of employment, the quality of life available by having a healthy forest landscape to play and the opportunity for individual opinion to be valued and heard.
Stacy and Greg Boone