Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have issued a letter to Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging an in-depth study of fire conditions and what can be done to mitigate the risk as a result of the Waldo Canyon Fire and other wildland fires in Colorado.
Specifically, Udall and Bennet want a "scientific review" of the Waldo Canyon Fire that would cover topics including what treatments were used to stop or slow the fire; the role (if any) of "community wildfire protection plans" in fire management and losses; projected fire-related costs over time; the effectiveness of post-fire stabilization and restoration approaches; and much more.
"We must examine the factors that led to the level of intensity and damage, and learn what we can do to reduce future risks," Udall and Bennet say in the letter. It's dated Oct. 11, three days after the Independent wrote to both senators asking whether the Waldo fire would be studied as thoroughly as the Hayman Fire was in 2002. That study led to an exhaustive report issued in 2003.
The letter: "This type of systematic, in-depth analysis to understand the social, economic, organizational and ecological impacts of these fires is essential to effectively addressing the future of fire management ion the WUI [Wildland Urban Interface] and to mitigating the impact of these large catastrophic events."
Udall and Bennet suggest the Agriculture Department work with Colorado-based institutions, including the USDA Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Southern Rockies Fire Science Network, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, the Western Fire Research Center, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
The Rocky Mountain Research Station took the lead in investigating similar issues surrounding the 2002 Hayman Fire, which wiped out more than 137,000 acres and made a one-day, 60,000-acre run.
That fire broke out in early June and eventually burned parts of Park, Teller and Douglas counties. By the end of that month, Udall was quoted as saying it would be "instructive to take a close look at the behavior of the fire, examine the factors that led to its intensity, and see if the way it behaved when it encountered previously affected or treated areas can be instructive in designing future risk-reduction projects."
Those statements led the Forest Service to establish the Hayman Fire Review Panel, which issued a 396-page report in September 2003 that details fire weather, climate, fire behavior, fuel treatments, suppression activities, soils and erosion, aquatic systems and the social and economic issues of the Hayman.
It's not Udall's first foray into investigating the Waldo fire. In August, he conducted an after-action review at Peterson Air Force Base to evaluate how federal and military forces interacted.
Udall spokesman Mike Saccone says in an e-mail the senators "completely expect" Vilsack to take up the study, especially "given the value for forest management, wildfire preparedness, etc., that would emerge as a result of such a study."
Here's the letter: