On Aug. 15, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing in Colorado Springs to discuss the recent Colorado wildfires, specifically what was learned through these fires that could be applied to future suppression, recovery and mitigation efforts.
Amongst those who testified in front of the senate was Jimbo Buickerood representing both the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group.
According to Buickerood, the committee showed an interest in the mixed conifer working group and forest management efforts in Pagosa through the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-term Stewardship contract between the U.S. Forest Service and J.R. Ford’s Pagosa Land Co.
“I definitely gathered from the hearing that the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group, their work and associated pieces, including the longterm stewardship contract, are well-known in the wildfire prevention and forest health leadership communities,” Buickerood told SUN staff, adding, “All panel members knew what it was and were interested.”
Going into the hearing, Buickerood knew that some committee members had heard of the working group and especially the longterm contract. However, he was surprised to discover that those familiar with the working group were in the majority. Most encouraging to Buickerood was the enthusiastic support and interest shown by Sen. Mark Udall.
In his testimony to the committee, Buickerood stated, “Both NEPA and HFRA include one of the most important pieces to the solution, that of public engagement which fosters public dialogue and full disclosure, elements that lead to good projects with good outcomes.”
Public engagement in Pagosa can be seen in the efforts of Firewise and those of the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group.
For Buickerood, this small celebrity can cut both ways for the working group. With more people aware and watching their work, obtaining funding becomes easier. On the other hand, it does add pressure — but a positive pressure that will push the group to do a good job and make for successful projects. The funding, Buickerood elaborated, is necessary for the next phase of the working group project: community outreach and eduction.
Part of the education, he said, must be about the necessity for occasional smoke. There is an ongoing struggling, Buickerood said, to find a balance between prescribed burns in appropriate places and smoke issues, about which Colorado has very strict statutes.
“It’s one of the educational pieces. Sometime it’s necessary to tolerate smoke in order to make a community safer,” Buickerood said.
Reducing fuels and doing prescribed burns back beyond the wildland urban interface (WUI) significantly reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire which would change the landscape in a drastic way, Buickerood said. He added that, more than many communities, Pagosa understands that thinning in the WUI and prescription burns are necessary for wildfire prevention.
“Communities want to do things, and people are looking to Pagosa,” Buickerood said.