Mountain Wildfire Mitigation

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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With knee-deep snow on the ground most thoughts would not gravitate toward wading through knee deep snow into the woods and cutting trees. When the snow is deep that is precisely the time I choose to cut dead trees for mitigation purposes. For me it is the perfect time to do wildfire mitigation. Trees get weak and old and die where they will blow over in a wind storm. Some dead trees just continue to stand and pose a continuing falling threat to us and the many wild animals that frequent our property. In case of an unfortunate wildfire those standing dead trees are a prime fuel source and are better when on the ground where they can be cut up for firewood and hauled off when they are more accessible in the spring time. When they stand adjacent to other live trees being as dry as they are it makes them standing tinder in case of an unexpected wildfire. By thinning out our dead trees we reduce fuel giving us a better chance of survival in case of a wildfire. Mountain soil at an elevation of 9,750 feet is not the best for sustaining heavy growth and the stronger and healthier trees tend to choke out the weaker trees. Removing the weak or dead trees allows the healthier and stronger trees a better chance of survival and opens the woods up for defensible space.

Cutting down our dead trees with snow on the ground has many advantages. It is comfortable weather to work outside this time of year. The ground is frozen so when the trees fall they don’t tear up the ground. There are no insects to deal with and it is cool enough that I don’t get drenched in sweat while working. The snow cushions the fall of the trees but it makes footing more difficult so more caution is required when moving around the base of trees. The pieces cut to firewood size are easier to drag through the snow than when the ground is bare and they don’t tear up the wildflowers or vegetation. By doing it this time of year we don’t risk having a falling tree knock a bird nest out of the adjacent trees. We have so many different species of birds that it is hard to fall trees in the spring time without accidentally causing harm.

The method I use when there is snow on the ground is to strap on snowshoes and walk a path to the dead trees that need to be cut. That provides me with a packed down trail that is easy to walk along when carrying a chainsaw, rope and whatever else is needed to bring down the larger dead trees. Once I have the trees on the ground I then prefer to use an ax to trim the limbs. I pile the limbs where I can later access them for mulch and I cut the tree into manageable pieces for anyone who wants firewood.

Potential wildfire is one of the most serious hazards anyone faces living in the more remote wooded areas and I find that doing mitigation in the winter when other projects have been halted because of the snow is a good time to do wildfire mitigation. Getting in firewood for winter, doing house, woodshed and garage maintenance and all the other routine demands leaves little time in the summer for wildfire mitigation. It is far too important to procrastinate or leave until later. Also in the rare possibility that a wildfire may occur residents often have just minutes to evacuate and that leaves no time then to do any mitigation. By doing the mitigation now will also provide the fire fighters a safe area to work in while protecting the property without putting themselves at a higher risk. Cutting dead trees now simply makes good sense to me so that is why I do my mitigation during the winter months.

Fortunately our immediate community has a highly trained and certified wildfire expert who is working along with members of the community to do mitigation for the entire area. We therefore have an educated professional who specializes in prevention to lead residents on how we can protect our own property in coordination with our many acres of common land. With the addition of a water truck, fire truck and able bodied volunteers it is essential that each person in the community do all they can individually to make mitigation an all around success. We have chosen to do ours in the winter when the snow is on the ground and leave spring and summer to more essential tasks. Our area has been fortunate to not have any immediate wildfire threats in many years but it is also wise to be proactive should a threat occur in the future. Having professional and experienced wildfire personnel as part of our community certainly improves our chances should we ever be threatened by a wildfire.

While cutting dead trees in the middle of winter sounds outlandish we find it more convenient and easier to do when we don’t have to sandwich it in between other required tasks during the warmer months. We also don’t have too much to do at one time and can spread it out over the long winter season when we can’t do other outdoor projects. We take a section of the property and cut the dead trees and then move to another section to do the same without feeling rushed. This process has worked well for us over the years and now all we do is maintenance in the removal of dead trees as they die each year. We believe it is a process worth considering and it sure beats sitting inside watching television and gets us strenuous exercise and more outdoor exposure.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmmurray and their mountain lifestyle go to:McElmurray’s Mountain Retreat.

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