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Last updated 10:52AM ET
December 17, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
Wildfire Prevention & Preparedness Part 4
(2007-04-19)
(ksut) -
HOST LEAD: As part of Fire Prevention and Education Month, KSUT is airing a number of reports this week on wildfire preparation and prevention.
Today, KSUT's Ken Brott tells us about tribal efforts to manage and fight wildfire on Southern Ute Reservation lands.

GUSTAFSON: WE HAVE TRUST RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT FROM FIRE, ALL OF THE RESERVATION LANDS FROM UTE MOUNTAIN BORDER TO THE WEST AND TO JUST SOUTH OF PAGOSA TO THE EAST, SO THAT'S ABOUT NINETY MILES OF FIRE SUPRESSSION AREA THAT WE COVER BUT WE COOPERATE CLOSELY WITH PAGOSA SPRINGS' FIRE DEPARTMENT, ARCHULETA COUNTY, LOS PINOS FIRE DEPARTMENT AND THEN FORT LEWIS MESA AS WELL.
AS WELL AS ALL OF OUR FEDERAL COOPERATORS WITH THE FOREST SERVICE: BLM, PARK SERVICE AND THEN UTE MOUNTAIN AGENCY AS WELL.
Rich Gustafson is the Fire Management Officer for the Southern Ute Agency in Ignacio, Colorado. He's been with the Bureau Of Indian Affairs for five years and with the Southern Ute Tribe for ten years prior to the BIA. His primary responsibility is managing and fighting wildfire on the reservation lands and that's no small task given the terrain and area that the reservation covers.
GUSTAFSON: THE SOUTHERN UTE RESERVATION'S KIND OF DIVIDED EAST AND WEST IN TIMBER TO THE EAST, UP IN SANDOVAL AND ARCHULETA MESA AND THAT AREA, SOUTH OF PAGOSA AND CHIMNEY ROCK AREAS IN THE EAST AND THEN WITH MORE PINON - JUNIPER WOODLANDS FROM IGNACIO TO THE WEST. SO WE HAVE TWO DIFFERENT FORESTS THAT WE DEAL WITH TYPICALLY AND BOTH HAVE THEIR OWN CHALLENGES AND FACETS ABOUT THEM CONCERNING FIRE SUPRESSION.
Not only is Gustafson dealing with a large area to cover, but the Southern Ute Agency has a relatively small crew. So when wildfire strikes on reservation lands, he often calls on help from other agencies in the region.
GUSTAFSON: WELL RIGHT NOW WE HAVE A LITTLE SMALLER WORKFORCE THAN WE HAVE IN THE PAST SO I HAVE THREE FIREFIGHTERS ON RIGHT NOW. THAT USUALLY FLUCTUATES FROM THREE TO SIX AND THOSE MAN OUR ENGINES, AND THEN WE WILL CALL FOLKS IN IF WE NEED TO, IF WE GET INTO SEVERE FIRE DANGER, AND THEN WE ALSO USE TRIBAL FORESTRY AND RANGE FOLKS AS WELL TO ASSIST WITH FIRE SUPRESSION.
Like anywhere else in the region, the Southern Ute Reservation has seen it's share of wildfires in the past. This year should be no exception. Gustafson says they average about one hundred fires a year - most of those igniting during the summer months when fire danger rises.
GUSTAFSON: WE'VE HAD NUMEROUS LARGE FIRES ON THE RESERVATION BECAUSE WE HAVE A LITTLE LOWER ELEVATION, THAN A LOT OF THE SURROUNDING AREAS AT LEAST, AND SO A LITTLE HOTTER, DRIER CONDITIONS. LAST YEAR WE HAD THE BLACK RIDGE FIRE WHICH WAS FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY ACRES IN MAY, PREVIOUSLY BEFORE THAT WE HAD THE BOLT FIRE WHICH WAS ABOUT TWO THOUSAND ACRES OVER BY CHIMNEY ROCK AND THE ARCHULETA CREEK AREA. THEN OF COURSE WE'VE HAD VERY LARGE FIRES ON THE ARCHULETA MESA BACK IN NINETY SIX AND THE BLACK RIDGE FIRE OF NINETY FOUR. SO WE'VE HAD OUR SHARE OF LARGE FIRES BUT THIS AREA KIND OF HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR THAT WITH MESA VERDE HAVING A LOT OF FIRES TOO, THEN OF COURSE THE MISSIONARY RIDGE FIRE ALSO GOT EVERYONE'S ATTENTION, SO THIS IS AN ECO SYSTEM THAT BURNS WE AVERAGE ABOUT A HUNDRED FIRES A YEAR RIGHT NOW, A LOT OF THEM JUST LIGHTNING STRIKES ON A SINGLE TREE, BUT A LOT OF THEM WILL START TO MOVE AND WE'LL GET ON THEM. BUT A HUNDRED FIRES A YEAR IS A LOT FOR ANY RESERVATION OR ALMOST ANY AGENCY, SO WE KEEP BUSY FROM JUNE TO AUGUST OR EVEN INTO SEPTEMBER.
Mitigation efforts and fuels treatments projects, including prescribed burns, are effective ways to help control wildfire when it strikes, but with such a vast amount of land to cover, Gustafson says there are still some areas of concern on Southern Ute land.
GUSTAFSON: THE PINE BEATLE HIT A LOT OF THE PINON ON OUR WEST SIDE SO WE HAVE A LOT OF MORTALITY, A LOT OF DEAD TREES OUT ON THE WEST SIDE IN THE PINON - JUNIPER FORESTS. WE DO HAVE LARGE FUEL ACCUMULATIONS OUT THERE SO NOW WE HAVE MORE OF A DEAD COMPONENT IN THOSE FUELS, SO WE HAVE SEEN SOME MORE ACTIVE FIRE BEHAVIOR IN THAT FUEL TYPE. UTE MOUNTAIN HAS HAD A FEW FIRES JUST ACROSS OUR BORDER THE LAST FEW YEARS THAT HAVE SHOWN FUEL DRIVEN FIRE BEHAVIOR, WHICH IS KIND OF NEW TO THIS AREA. SO WE'RE EXPECTING THAT GIVEN A DRY YEAR WE COULD SEE THE SAME THING ON OUR RESERVATION AS WELL.
Gustafson says that since we've had a relatively wet Spring there may be a bit less activity during the early Summer season, but things tend to dry out more by June and that could mean an active mid to late Summer. Last year they had a busy early season which included the five hundred and thirty acre Black Ridge Fire that struck in May... Whatever activity this season brings Gustafson and his crew are ready for another Summer of wildfires.
You can find out more information about local programs dealing with wildfire, by going to the Southwest Colorado Fire Information Clearinghouse, onlin at southwestcoloradofires.org.
From KSUT Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Ken Brott.

Tomorrow we conclude a week of reports with a look at how you can best prepare to survive a wildfire.
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