LAFD starts study of Wildfire Mitigation, Education project

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By Wren Propp

About 114 acres of forested “benches” and shrubby swaths within Los Alamos County are the target of a new wildfire mitigation project in the early stages of discussion.

About 10 members of the public attended the preliminary discussion on Wednesday with Los Alamos Fire Department officials, including newly appointed Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna, and a representative of SWCA, an environmental consultants firm based in Durango, Colorado.

Seven areas within Los Alamos proper have been identified as prime spots to clear brush and dead trees, along with some still-living trees, to prevent or slow down the next big wildfire that may head toward Los Alamos.

“If you think about it, there was the Cerro Grande in 2001, the Las Conchas in 2011. So, you wonder, what’s going to happen in 2021?” Sterna told the group.

Sterna and retiring Wildland Division Chief Ramon Garcia both said mitigation in wind-driven “chimneys” within the wooded urban areas of the county plays a large role in preventing another conflagration.

The department has a $400,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including $52,000 for developing an environmental assessment of fire hazards within the county. Three years remain to spend the large grant, although comments at the meeting from the public hinted that more funds are needed.
Current mitigation projects are ongoing, including work near Canyon Rim Trail in Los Alamos and east of Rover in White Rock.

Under discussion at Wednesday’s meeting were county-owned areas identified as: the Villa Bench; the Walnut Bench; Ponderosa Estates Range Road; North Loma Linda, Camino Redondo; the North Horse Stable Bench; and the Camino Uva Project.

The proposal also includes public education to help homeowners find ways to create defensible space.
Los Alamos resident Larry Tickner said past mitigation projects were failing because only old trees were left – future generations of trees were cut down. Many of the old trees are dying with no new “baby” trees left to take their place, he said.

“That needs to be re-looked at,” he said.
More care would be taken to keep young and old trees alive if the mitigation proposal comes to fruition, Garcia said. For example, developing water-holding places for the trees could be considered.

Comments on the preliminary idea should be submitted to SWCA no later than Wednesday. A much longer, 30-day comment period is planned following development of a draft.

Wildfire awareness activities are planned throughout October, including opportunities for homeowners to visit with firefighters about creating defensible spaces.

Also, the county’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan is scheduled for its twice-yearly review and updates in November. Comments should be submitted to LACproject@swca.com, or faxed to 970-385-1938. By regular mail to LAC Wildfire Mitigation Project, c/o SWCA Environmental Consultants, 130 Rock Point Drive, Ste. A, Durango, CO 81301. More information is available at LACwildfireproject.us.