Bear Mountain neighbors join forces to fight fire danger

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By Vicky Gits

A group of homeowners on Bear Mountain in Evergreen has applied for a 2009 wildland-urban interface grant from the Colorado State Forest Service to help mitigate fire danger in their mountaintop neighborhood of 200 homes.

The idea is to join forces and launch a war against dead and diseased trees and to identify trees to be thinned. Participants use their own equipment and volunteer time and muscle power.

The proposal also asks for funds to educate people on FireWise principles of home protection.

“It’s amazing how many people don’t understand the importance of thinning and removal of slash and ground litter. ee Gently waving 4-foot grasses can turn into a deathtrap if conditions are right,” said Margaret Cross, who spearheaded the grant-writing process.

Walsh Environmental Services classified Bear Mountain Vista and neighboring Stanley Park as having “high” wildfire risk in a recent study ranking Evergreen neighborhoods. The area is known for having one main road in and out, narrow roads, an abundance of heavy vegetation, steep slopes and a high proportion of combustible siding and decks, the Walsh Environmental study says.

But Cross, president of the Bear Mountain Homeowners Association, didn’t need a study to know that Bear Mountain faces high fire danger. She has fought (unsuccessfully) to keep out new construction because of the limited access on the mountain and her belief that more houses will only make matters worse.

In the background is the growing awareness that “quasi-wildland” communities like Evergreen are potential disaster areas, given the growing number of houses situated on small lots in dense forests that haven’t burned in decades.

The grant application asks for $46,500 in state funds, to be matched by $46,500 in volunteer labor and homeowner donations. Some 20 homeowners have pledged a total of $5,500 in cash and $38,750 in in-kind contributions. Funds would be for chippers, slash removal, roll-offs, technical felling of bigger trees and hiring crews to help with cutting and hauling.

“What I like about putting this together is it raised the consciousness of a whole lot of people. We can go back to them and ask them to put in the time and the money. People said, ‘It’s a community thing; we can work on it,’ ” Cross said.

The deadline for the grant application was Aug. 22, and the result won’t be known until June.

For more information, visit the Colorado State Forest Service website at www.csfs.colostate.edu.

The grant application

(Source: Bear Mountain Homeowners Association)

• 200 homes on 2- to 5-acre forested lots.

• Elevation: 7,850 feet to 8,629 feet.

• Aspect mostly north and west, high upslope winds common.

• Slope average is 30 percent, ranging from 15 to 55 percent.

• Project area is 45 acres along roads on clustered, mostly contiguous properties.

• Dense mixed conifer, averaging 496 trees per acre; average height of 41 feet.

• Fire danger is high-extreme due to location next to Denver Mountain Parks land with poorly maintained forest and high fuel loads, high density of trees, continuity of canopy and continuity of fuel on the ground in the form of vegetation, litter and downed woody debris.