Mesa Verde National Park Completes Resource Management Fuel Reduction Project

Vegetation grows in front of a prehistoric granary built into the cliff face.
Fuel reduction around a cultural site.

Successful Wildlfire Fuel Reduction

On April 8, 2014, Mesa Verde National Park’s fire management staff completed a successful resource management-driven fuel reduction project in the southwest corner of the park. The Bobcat prescribed burn project was located on the south end of Wetherill Mesa. The primary objective of this small, nine-acre prescribed burn was to protect a grove of large ponderosa pine trees from future loss to wildfire by reducing an unnatural buildup of vegetation that has occurred over the past 110 years. This excess vegetation was mainly due to fire exclusion and suppression. In a natural fire cycle, ponderosa pine forests normally burn every 5–20 years, thus reducing the fuel load. The protection of this grove of ponderosa pine trees may also offer benefits to the threatened Mexican spotted owl, which calls some of the canyons in Mesa Verde home. These large trees provide hunting sites for the birds and also may provide protection from predators.

Even though this was a small prescribed burn from an acreage aspect and was completed in one day, it did have some complex issues, including working in steep canyon terrain. In addition, one of the objectives of the burn was zero mortality of the ponderosa pine. The canyon also has significant Native American cultural resource sites, including dwellings and a granary set in the canyon walls. The protection of these sites was a priority.

The prescribed burn required a difficult ignition pattern using hand-held drip torches. Approximately 70–80 percent of the nine-acre burn unit was affected by the fire. Survival of the ponderosa pine is expected to be 95 percent or more. It’s also expected that most of the pinyon and juniper trees within the burn area will not survive, which was a goal of the burn. The oak that was burned in the canyon is expected to resprout in the future.

The Bobcat prescribed burn will provide numerous advantages to Mesa Verde National Park, including a lowered risk from wildland fire and a benefit to the plants and animals of the fire-adapted ponderosa pine ecosystem, especially the Mexican spotted owl. The policy of using fire as a management tool helps decrease risks to life, property, and resources and perpetuates the values for which the park was established.

Contact: Steven Underwood, fire management officer
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (970) 529-5049