Friday, May 24, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park Creates Management Learning Opportunity

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Colorado's most popular locations for fishing, hiking, climbing, horse back riding and a variety of outdoor recreation. Visitors will flock to Estes Park to admire the scenery and visit the annual Art Market and Antique Fair this weekend. However, the area was hit hard by wildfires in 2012 which continue to burn.

National Park Service policy dictates that every fire must be suppressed in order to protect people's lives and homes. Fire Management Chief, Mike Lewelling said that until public safety is guaranteed "we would never have the luxury of managing a fire for the ecological benefits."

Many are beginning to question the suppression policy. The park service has faced a sharp increase in the costs associated with wildfire prevention as the fire season has lengthened. In addition, the suppression of wildfires creates even more dense forests, resulting in an even bigger risk of a large, uncontrollable wildfire occurring in the future.

Park managers are gearing up for the busy Memorial Day weekend and are checking each affected area. The Fern Lake fire is becoming an area of particular attention. Fern Lake is about 10 miles into the Rocky Mountain National Park. In October of 2012, an illegal campfire caused the wildfire in the area which spread 3 miles in 35 minutes and came within half a mile of Estes Park.

The 3,498-acre fire area is a showcase and a case-study of the regenerative benefits of wildfires. Park managers are impressed with the rapid and diverse regeneration occurring within the blackened remains of pines. The Fern Lake area is a demonstration of the the vital role wildfire plays in the health of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

As you enter Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend, you will see signs of the wildfire, but also, you will notice the persistence of nature to rebound from disaster. Last year, the western states saw more wildfires than in the 50 years of fire records. The National Park Service's wildfire policy may be about to change in response to lessons learned from the Fern Lake fire.

For more information about wildfires and conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit the National Park Service website.

Angelica Oman
Graduate Program Assistant

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