Aerial mulching moves to private lands

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As aerial mulching on about 3,000 acres of national forest in the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area wrapped up, money was coming in to extend the mulching program to private land at Eagle Lake Camps.

The camp, owned by The Navigators which also owns Glen Eyrie, was founded in 1957 and brings in about 2,500 children each year. The camp sits on 350 acres near Rampart Reservoir. About 100 acres, some out buildings and some camping sites burned in the fire. It is some of these acres that were the target for aerial mulching by helicopters owned by Bradco Environmental, the California-based company that performed aerial mulching for the U.S. Forest Service in Waldo Canyon.

A check for $30,000 from Safari Club International, given to The Navigators on Sept. 24, kept Bradco flying for a few more days, dumping tons of agricultural straw and wood chip-mulch on heavily burned and steeper areas of the Eagle Lake burn area. The mulching on the burn scar, both on the national forest land and at Eagle Lake, was the recommendation of the Burned Area Emergency Response team's survey after the fire was contained.

Ron Thibedeau, Waldo Canyon BAER liaison officer, said The Navigators have been good partners for the U.S. Forest Service. He added that relationships with partners, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other private entities and nonprofit agencies, for the Waldo Canyon Fire will be long term. “We're still working in Hayman 10 years in,” he said.

“It's great to see so many organizations coming to together to help us,” said Jack McQueeney, Navigators executive director, as he accepted the check from John Celestre, Safari Club International Colorado Chapter Region 13 representative. “We're very grateful.”

He added that reforestation on the 100 acres of burned land at Eagle Lake Camps and the 100 acres that burned at Glen Eyrie will cost about $750,000. He then spoke of his faith that the work will be accomplished. “God has something special in store for us,” he said.

Celestre explained that the Safari Club's worldwide mission is conservation, preserving natural resources and wildlife and promoting responsible and ethical hunting as a wildlife management tool. The club recently decided to work with private landowners affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire to restore habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, deer and other species.

While aerial mulching is going on and after, Navigators crews will be using hand rakes to scarify and seed heavily burned areas of the Eagle Lake forest with a mixture of annual and perennial grass seeds. In severely burned areas, the ground becomes water repellent, allowing precipitation to run off quickly instead of soaking in. During heavy rain events, fast runoff, filled with soil, duff and debris, can become flash floods. Grass and other plants help keep soil from being washed away with runoff.

The Navigators plan to have the camps up and running by next summer and has sponsored “camperships” to bring children of first responders who worked to save the camps to Eagle Lake next summer.

Sidebar:

Treatment effectiveness

In his report, “BAER From a Practitioners Viewpoint, Treatment Effectiveness and Lessons Learned,” Rory Steinke, soil scientist and watershed program manager at Coconino National Forest in Arizona, shows the relative costs and effectiveness mulching with and without seeding and wood shred mulching. He starts out by saying, “Natural recovery is the preferred, proven BAER treatment.”

However, barring natural recovery, he concludes, at $35-$50 per acre, that seeding alone, without mulching, is the cheapest post-fire treatment but also the least effective.

The following are some of his other conclusions:

At $500 an acre, agricultural straw mulching is more expensive, slower to implement, good on slopes up to about 35 percent, provides immediate cover and more effective than seeding alone.

Seeding followed by mulching may be most effective on slopes of less than 35 percent grade. Plants hold down straw mulch and prevent loss from runoff and wind. There is no evidence of the mulch preventing native-grass regeneration but monitoring is lacking for this issue.

At $1,500-$2,000 per acre wood shred mulching is most expensive and slowest to implement but is effective on slopes ranging from about 35-70 percent. Native plants can regenerate through the wood mulch.

Steinke's complete document is available at www.azgs.az.gov.