Recreational areas impacted by Bear Dance Fire 

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Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) is taking place along the Pine River and areas surrounding Scott’s Pond to assess recreational safety and habitat restoration following the Bear Dance Fire in Ignacio, which burned 89 acres in early June.
A Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) Team is currently assessing and developing a plan for the impacted area near Scott’s Pond; the foot trails and burned areas along the Pine River are closed until further notice.
BIA Southern Ute Agency, Fire Management Officer, Rich Gustafson and John Gilbert, Captain with Los Pinos Fire Protection District walk the burn scar with members of the Tribe’s Division of Natural Resources.
An abandoned truck, which likely dates back to the middle of last century, was exposed in the burn scar, along with other debris. Mitigation efforts in the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) process will work clean up these areas for future use.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
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Rehabilitation efforts underway in burn scar 

Following the Bear Dance Fire in early June of this year, collaborations are under way between the Tribe and BIA Southern Ute Agency Fire Management to mitigate environmental hazards in the wake of the recent wildfire and improve accessibility within the burn scare for future use. The process is known as a Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER), and a BAER Team is currently assessing and developing a plan for the impacted area.  

“Our main concern obviously is public safely. Taking trees down, so that the trail can be opened up, and folks can use that area again,” BIA Southern Ute Agency, Fire Management Officer, Rich Gustafson explained. “How the Tribal Council wants to improve upon that area is their call. The BAER project is focused on taking down trees, repairing fences and treating for noxious weeds. Those are our initial goals once safety is addressed…we have a 20-person crew coming in this weekend to start some work on it; so, people will see some activity down there. That crew is coming in from Zuni, New Mexico.” 

“We will work with the Tribal Range department for those specifications [regarding noxious weeds],” Gustafson said. “Luckily with this rain, there is a break in the fires, so we are able to get in there right away — and now we are ahead of schedule. Still no definite timeframe for opening up the rest of the reactional trail to Scott’s pond – that date is still to be determined.” 

“The Southern Ute Tribal Council met with BIA Southwest Regional Post Wildfire Recovery Coordinator, Darryl Martinez, Tuesday, June 14,” according to a press release by Tribal Council Affairs. “Martinez oversees the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BEAR) Program which will be utilized for the Bear Dance Fire burn scar. As a part of that meeting, BIA Southern Ute Agency, Fire Management Officer, Rich Gustafson updated Tribal Council on the investigation determining the cause of the fire. Gustafson also covered the minute impacts of the retardant dropped from air resources to suppress the fire.”
The BEAR Program brings in experts in biology and water resources to meet with tribal professionals to develop a plan to address safety hazards for the area and plans for restoration. There are four phases to the program: suppression repair, emergency stabilization, burned area rehabilitation, and future plans. 

“Everyone is working as quickly as possible on getting the area open and accessible, Tribal Council’s priority is restoring it back to where it was pre-burn,” Communication Specialist Lindsay Box said. “It’s really just going through the BAER process to reduce the risk and restore the environment to pre-fire conditions.”  

The Southern Ute Wildlife Division, under the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also plays a key role, assessing the impacts to wildlife — both in terms of the immediate impacts caused by the fire and the long-term impacts of recreational use.  

The BAER Team is in consultation with the DNR staff, monitoring for safety, in terms of getting rid of hazardous trees, and replacing any infrastructure that was lost in the fire, such foot bridges and benches.  

“It’s all sort of intertwined,” Southern Ute Wildlife Biologist Aran Johnson explained. “Ultimately what’s good for the river bottom and what’s good for habitat is good for wildlife. There is the safety component, because that’s a recreational area, because of the trails that go through there. Then there is the habitat component.” 

“We need to deal with the safety aspect, so that staff can go in there and work, that safety aspect is first,” he said. 

“The way it looks now is going to change rapidly,” Johnson emphasized. “There is water close to the surface, and these rains are going to get things sprouting — especially species that respond well to fire. Willows, cottonwoods, and buffalo berries are examples of species that are quick to rejuvenate. Those river bottom habitats are the most productive areas we have for wildlife, and the impact of the fire was most likely felt by nesting, migratory birds.” 

“I don’t think we saw any direct loss with those younger deer, elk populations. The birds were the most impacted but will return and take advantage of that habitat in the spring cycle; some birds will benefit from the new growth,” Johnson said. “The elk and deer were already back in the burn area, within a few days of the burn.” 

“We are of course going to have those skeletons of trees that will remind us of what went through, but it is going to look real different, real quick.” 

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