San Isabel works with landowners, agencies on Junkins Fire recovery

 

 

A month after firefighters contained the fast-moving Junkins Fire, San Isabel Land Protection Trust is engaging with landowners and agency partners to assess damage, establish a recovery plan and connect landowners with much-needed resources.

 

 

The 18,000-acre Junkins fire, which started in near hurricane-strength winds Oct. 17, burned approximately 4,000 acres under conservation easement. That includes grasslands, grazing range, hay meadows, steep forested slopes, creeks and washes, and rocky cliffs. In all, six conservation properties were affected.

Ranchers, including Vicki and Bill Donley, a fourth-generation rancher and San Isabel board member, lost cattle, fencing, equipment and outbuildings. The fire consumed one home on a conservation property. In the aftermath of the fire, the properties continue to be vulnerable to erosion, debris flow and flooding.

San Isabel’s executive director, Ben Lenth, and stewardship specialist, Kate Spinelli, have stepped up to provide key support for our landowners. They’ve arranged site visits with state and county recovery coordinators to identify needs and funding sources, create recovery plans and look for ways to collaborate.

Myriad issues must be addressed in the coming months. They include:

• Personal and public safety. Fire damaged trees pose a risk to buildings or other areas people use. Homes and other buildings near streams, draws or flood plains may see flooding. Property access could be cut off if a bridge or culvert is destroyed by flash flood.

 

• Managing risk and protecting property from post-fire flooding. Work includes removing debris near culverts, irrigation structures and drains, setting up emergency alert systems and identifying sources of potential runoff onto property and around homes.

• Preventing soil erosion. Fire destabilizes soils, making them prone to erosion. Erosion increases sediment and debris in streams, making erosion-control structures critical.

• Restoring and reseeding vegetation. Fire reduces grazing for wildlife and livestock, degrades habitat and increases the potential for invasive plants to enter the landscape. Reseeding and mulching can speed the ecosystem’s recovery, while keeping nonnative weeds at bay. That can include planting grass and trees, as well as riparian planting along streams.

“The Junkins Fire has challenged our landowners and San Isabel to do all we can to minimize future damage as a result of the fire and restore the area’s healthy landscape,” Lenth said. “We’re up to that challenge. Our goal is to see our landowners come back stronger than ever.”

Ben Lenth

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  • “We are situated along the Gold Belt National Scenic Byway, where several land trust organizations are involved with protection of lands. San Isabel was extremely well informed. We, and our neighbors, are very pleased with the end result, and the annual monitoring process is unobtrusive. I wish more folks would take the time to learn about the benefits San Isabel offers.”

    – Curt Sorenson, PhD, Fremont County