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Burn, Baby, Burn — the elk will love it

Brief by Central Staff

Land management – January 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Burn, Baby, Burn: The Elk Will Love It

If you see a helicopter shooting flames in the Hillside area this winter, it is not an attack from the New World Order.

Instead, it’s part of a controlled burn planned by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on about 1,200 acres along Sullivan Creek south of the Cotopaxi Cut-off Road.

San Carlos District Ranger Cindy Rivera, based in Cañon City, explained that in days of yore, natural fires thinned the thick growth of oakbrush in the area.

For the past century or so, though, those fires have been suppressed. The result is that the oakbrush grows tall and dense, which leads to two problems:

1) When it does catch fire someday, it will burn so fiercely that the fire might be difficult to contain, and

2) The oak canopy crowds out the grass that elk feed on, and that area is losing elk habitat rapidly on account of development.

If the weather coöperates, then sometime between now and the end of March, the higher part of the area will be ignited by helicopter, while ground crews will spread flames at the lower elevation. The fire should be contained by snow, although crews will be on hand.

This is the first stage, which is supposed to kill the oak stems and allow grasses to reëstablish themselves. A second burn would come in two or three years, in late summer, to kill about 35% of the remaining oak so that the grass can spread.