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November 2018 Forestry Newsletter

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simulated home in wildfire

To: Pole Creek Meadows Lot Owners

As it has been about five years since the last forestry newsletter came out, I felt it was important to inform the many owners who have joined us since 2013, and refresh the memories of those that were here prior to that, of sound forestry practices whose adoption makes us a safer community.

In no particular order of importance, I will address the following to your attention:

  •         Defensible Space
  •         Tree Thinning
  •          Ladder Fuel Elimination
  •          Methods of Slash Disposal

Defensible Space is no joke. These two words are like a protective spell anytime Colorado’s wildland urban interface erupts into flames. It is a strategy that is as much about maintenance as landscaping. Your two most important tools are a rake and a weed whacker. You have this thought process: "This is never going to happen to me," said Cass Cairns, Public Affairs Officer for the Rocky Mountain Research Station, the US Forest Service Research and Development arm. "But people have to start thinking it can, especially if they live near the wildland interface".

Recently, several small fires in Summit County near Silverthorne, CO were quickly extinguished. Fire officials were quick to credit prior inexpensive and extensive work done by nearby HOAs with the suppression of the fires. Put briefly, defensible space means two things: thwarting fire’s attempts to ignite your home and, should fire come, creating room for firefighters to defend it. (Ref: Colo. State Forest Svc. (CSFS) brochure FIRE 2012-1, Protecting Your Home from Wildfire, available from CSFS/Granby or PCM/HOA Forestry (970-887-2252) More information is available at csfs.colostate.edu/pages/defensiblespace.html.  The Granby phone for CSFS is 970-887-3121. Dennis Soles, Fire Marshal at East Grand Fire (970-726-5824) is also available to evaluate individual lots and homes regarding fire safety at no charge.

Defensible space is the area around a home or other structure that has been modified to reduce fire hazard. In this area, natural and man-made fuels are treated, cleared and reduced to slow the spread of wildfire. Creating defensible space also works in reverse and reduces the chance of a structure fire spreading to neighboring homes and the surrounding forest. Defensible space creates three zones moving outward from your home.

ZONE 1: the area nearest the home and other structures. This 0-30 ft. wide zone requires maximum hazard reduction.

ZONE 2: is a transitional area of fuel reduction 30-100 ft. out, between zones 1 and 2.

ZONE 3: is the area farthest from (100+ ft. out) the home and extends from the outer edge of zone 2 to your property boundary.

Recently, a leading forest fire expert opined "Firefighting teams take about 20-30 seconds in an emergency to evaluate a home and determine if it worth trying to save. They evaluate IF a home has a defensible space and also IF it was well constructed, extensive enough and properly maintained. If so, they have a significant incentive to try to save the home. If an owner has disregarded or neglected these concepts, we'll go on to save another house and not put our efforts into trying to save a home the owner didn't try to protect". Request and review the information given above for more defensible space details.

Tree Thinning: Landowners thin trees for many reasons. Increasing land values, improving tree health & vigor, improving wildlife habitat, reducing fire hazards and increasing visual appeal are only some of the reasons. Like all plants, trees need room to grow. A healthy tree is a fast growing tree but competition for nutrients and water intensifies as trees grow closer together. Often, this results in low vigor trees which become susceptible to insects, disease and fire. Tree density affects property values that are highest at 140 trees per acre. If density is more than 140 trees/acre, land value decreases in proportion to the additional trees. (REF: CSFS brochure: Landowner Guide to Thinning)

At PCM, since we removed approximately 54,000 dead pine beetle killed trees from 2005-2009, a good deal of new growth has sprung up and in a number of places, there are 50-75 small (6"-36") tall trees in a small 10' X 10' area for example, far too many to be healthy. Removing many of these now while they are small saves the work of removing larger trees later, reduces the amount of biomass to be disposed of and makes for a much healthier overall forest. Additionally, it is far easier to cut off a small tree flush with the ground (one cut!) rather than removing its ladder limbs (multiple cuts!) Selecting several healthy symmetrical trees in a dense stand to keep and removing the others makes good sense. Another benefit of thinning is that grasses and flowers will grow into a thinned, sun-exposed area whereas only dead pine needles prevail on the forest floor in dense tree stands.

The CSFS provides a publication titled "Landowners Guide to Thinning" with more detailed information on tree spacing and tree selection, as well as a priority selection system for trees to be removed. Aspen trees are rare at PCM and should not be cut unless dead. A 10-foot crown spacing (from tree drip line to adjacent tree drip line, not just from stem to stem) is ideal. Species and age diversity is desirable. A few closely spaced clumps of trees is recommended by CSFS with greater than 10-foot crown spacing between clumps to avoid crowning during a fire event.

All dead trees should be cut down, limbed and stacked in a log deck for removal or stacked for firewood in 8-foot lengths. Uprooted stumps should be removed from the property and trees whose tops are dead usually die slowly and should be removed. Cut trees a maximum of 4" above ground level, leaving as little stump as possible. The above information applies to ALL lots, that is, those with homes and undeveloped lots also. Most owners care for the small number of trees in the right-of-way (ROW) between the paved road and the property line. These should be treated the same as the trees on your property, with regard to thinning, laddering and removal of dead trees. The Forestry Committee did this over the past several years but it spreads the work out if each owner does this area adjacent to their own lot.

Pole Creek Meadows is an 11-year participant in the Firewise USA Program (www.firewise.org) that stresses an awareness of protecting your home and lot from the ravages of fire in those areas where homes are in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Contact your insurance company about this as many insurers offer reduced rates on homes within HOAs that participate in this program.

Ladder Fuel Elimination: Ladder fuels are the limbs and undergrowth that grow out horizontally from the main trunk of a tree. These provide fuel continuity from the ground (where a fire can be more easily controlled) to the crown of trees (where a fire cannot be easily controlled). For this reason, PCM long ago adopted a policy in its covenants REQUIRING all trees to be ladder-limbed, that is, to have all lower ladder limbs/fuels removed.  Trees 30 ft. tall and above need to be limbed 10 ft. up from the ground and those trees less than 30 ft. tall need to be limbed 1/3 of their height, from the ground up. Limbs should be removed flush with the stem of the tree. Smaller younger trees can act as ladder fuels for the larger trees so strongly consider removing these. Since mountain juniper is a ladder fuel (more dangerous/flammable than ladder limbs by a factor of 2-3X), it is strongly recommended that it be removed. It grows symbiotically at the very base of lodgepole pines and thus is a significant fire danger. Laddering of ornamental blue spruce trees planted by owners should go up 2-3 ft. from the ground, after letting the tree get well established, perhaps 4-5 years after planting. These trees should be segregated from others. (see information from the CSFS).

Slash Disposal: Slash (the limbs /branches from laddering) can either be hauled to a dumpsite (most expensive method), chipped (next most expensive method), or burned (least expensive method). Most owners choose burning that can be done during the Opening Burn Season each year (November to March), after obtaining a $20 burn permit. Contact Grand County Natural Resources at 970-887-0745 or https://co.grand.co.us/142/Open-Burning for more information. You may wish to do your own burning or contact the following who will do the burning for a fee. A burn permit is still required. Burn early in the burn season when the snow is not yet too deep as it is far easier. John Treiber/970-509-9096  or Carlos Molina/970-531-5910.

Slash piles should be constructed well away from buildings and overhanging trees or other nearby items that could be damaged. Piles should be twice as high as they are in diameter and should not contain construction debris, stumps, dirt, tires or logs over 6" in diam. The flames from the burning pile will be about 3X the height of the pile. It is helpful to cover the pile with an anchored tarp so accumulated snow can be removed before lighting the pile. This helps avoid wet and overly smoky piles. After obtaining a burn permit you must get permission to burn from Natural Resources (970-887-0745) on the specific day you wish to burn. Slash should be well dried and a maximum of 18 months old before burning. A slash pile can have up to 15% by volume of green branches in it and still be burned without excessive smoke. Slash is trash and needs to be taken care of---it is not a permanent storage area. Multiple piles can be burned in one day and the burn area usually revegetates in several years.

Dwarf Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows readily on lodgepole pine, weakening the host tree, making it vulnerable to insect infestation and drought, and causing deformities of the branches. ("witches broom") CSFS Bulletin #2.925, titled "Dwarf Mistletoe Management" describes mistletoe and its treatment in detail. PCM has several pockets of mistletoe infestation and you may call PCM Forestry for a review of your lot to see if you have it.

The Ready, Set, Go! Program was established to help fire departments teach individuals who live in high risk wildfire areas (and the WUI) how to best prepare themselves and their properties against fire threats. Go to www.BeWildfireReady.org,  click on Resources for Residents and go to Ready, Set, Go! Download the RSG Wildland Fire Action Guide to learn how to be better prepared for a wildfire event.

Also available for purchase at www.BeWildfireReady.org are the green reflective metal address signs showing house number and county road number ($30). These facilitate the quick location of your home by emergency personnel and are highly recommended.

Firewood should be stored a minimum of 30 feet away from a home and never under a deck or next to a structure. Clean dead pine needles from gutters and valleys on home roofs and from near home. Mountain juniper burns like gasoline and should be removed from all three defensible space zones. It is a ladder fuel. Cut dry weeds adjacent to the home and place rock/gravel 4-5 ft. from home edge outward.

Remember, no outdoor fires (except burn permitted slash piles to be burned in winter) are allowed at PCM---ever! It is simply too dangerous, particularly now during our current dry weather.

In closing, I will include two sentences from the PCM President’s letter dated 11/29/17, referring to PCM business discussed at the 11/3/17 board meeting. "The Forestry Committee will be contacting owners of properties that require work to meet covenants. The board strongly urges property owners who do not meet forestry requirements, especially ladder fuel removal and slash burning, to bring your lots up to covenant requirements as soon as possible".

The PCM board and forestry committee have worked diligently to make our HOA a very pleasant, safe and welcoming place to live via:

  •          applying for and receiving forest service grants for fuel reduction
  •          participating in the Firewise USA Program
  •          open space cleanup and maintenance, using a portion of your annual HOA dues each year
  •          creating and maintaining fuel breaks between sagebrush and the lodgepole pine forest
  •          maintaining the informative PCM website at:  www.polecreekmeadows.com
  •          utilizing the Ready, Set, Go! program of wildland fire preparedness and evacuation

So please,

  •          purchase and install metal reflective address sign at driveway entrance
  •          review PCM website & covenants
  •          download the RSG Wildland Fire Action Guide
  •          call your insurance company about Firewise benefits

·         Create defensible space around your home:

• cut and dispose of dead grasses

 remove ladder limbs and ladder fuels

 burn slash piles appropriately

 thin trees to optimum density

 remove all dead trees

 remove mountain juniper

Please contact Pete Peterson, PCM Forestry Adviser, if you have questions about any of this material at (970) 887-2252 or tabernashpete@gmail.com

UPDATE: Please click on the pdf below for an update letter that was released.

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Administrator PCMOA,
Nov 15, 2018, 2:24 PM