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What drives extreme fires? It’s mostly the weather

Forest Service scientists study aftermath of Rim Fire to assess effectiveness of forest health treatments

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A detailed new study of fire behavior of the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite provides a nuanced view of the effectiveness of forest health treatments.

The Rim Fire was the largest recorded fire in the Sierra Nevada region, and U.S. Forest Service researchers said in their study that the fire burned with moderate to high intensity on days the Rim Fire was dominated by a large pyro-convective plume, a powerful column of smoke, gases, ash, and other debris — regardless of the number of prior fires, topography, or forest conditions. Continue reading

Forest Service seeks comment on plan to build new road to a private inholding on Peak 6 at Breckenridge Ski Area

Access law obligates Forest Service to consider road access

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Will this be the ultimate ski-in, ski-out cabin at Breckenridge?

Staff Report

FRISCO — The owners of a 10-acre private parcel surrounded by national forest lands on Peak 6 at Breckenridge Ski Area may soon have the ultimate ski-in, ski-out cabin.

The U.S. Forest Service this week started taking public comment on a plan to provide access to the private inholding, located near the top of the Zendo Chair and base of the Kensho chair. Continue reading

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Colorado: More fracking coming to the Pawnee National Grasslands

Feds finalizing oil and gas development plan for 100,000 acres of public land

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Oil and gas drilling is spreading northeastward into the Pawnee National Grasslands. Map courtesy WildEarth Guardians.

Staff Report

FRISCO — If it sometimes feels like fracking is closing in wherever you look, it’s because it is. One of the latest arenas for fossil fuel exploitation is on the Pawnee National Grasslands, in northeastern Colorado, described by the U.S. Forest Service as the country’s last remaining shortgrass prairie. Continue reading

Public Lands: Forest Service chief says journalists won’t have to pay to take photos in wilderness areas

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Sunrise in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Gore Range, Colorado.

Forest Service chief clarifies proposed directive on commercial permits

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —After a few days of scathing news reports and commentaries, the U.S. Forest Service made it clear that a new policy on wilderness photography and filming won’t apply to journalists or visitors taking snapshots for their own use.

The update came from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who said in a prepared statement that the agency is committed to the First Amendment.

“To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities,” Tidwell said, going on to describe the agency’s effort standardize permitting and to ensure that the public gets fair value for commercial activities in wilderness areas. Continue reading

Opinion: Lake Hill development should be carbon-neutral

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Bob Berwyn.

Smart up-front planning can minimize our carbon footprint

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Passage of the Lake Hill land conveyance bill by the U.S. Senate last week is good news for Summit County’s efforts to try and keep up with the demand for affordable housing in the pricey mountain resort region, and will also help the U.S. Forest Service by funding a new administrative and maintenance facility. Now that the deal is done, it’s time to start thinking about making sure that the Lake Hill neighborhood becomes a model of sustainable development. Continue reading

Forest Service details cost of ‘fire borrowing’

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

Numerous Colorado projects delayed as feds juggle budgets in era of monster wildfires

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service officials said they’ve had to defer reviews of ski area projects, delay trail improvements and forest restoration work because of the high cost of fighting wildfires. This year, the agency projects a $470 million gap that ripples through the entire Forest Service budget.

More than a dozen important projects in Colorado were on the hit list, according to a  new report released this week by the Department of Agriculture. Some of the projects were canceled altogether because their funding has been diverted to fighting wildfires.   Continue reading

Feds see $470 million gap in firefighting budget

 firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Funding shortfall has ripple effect in other public lands programs

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With a dangerous fire season forecast for parts of the country, especially the drought-stricken far West and Southern Plains, federal firefighting agencies will likely once again face a huge budget shortfall. That could require the Forest Service to divert funds from other programs, according to top administration officials who presented the report to Congress.

The report projects firefighting costs of about $1.8 billion, with only $1.4 billion budgeted. The Obama administration is advocating for a budget that would close the gap by giving firefighting agencies the ability to use emergency funds separate from their discretionary budgets to fight fires.

Similar legislation is pending in Congress, where the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is cosponsored by Sen.Michal Bennet (D-CO) and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Continue reading

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