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Prescribed fire lit in Hunter Creek above Aspen to support wildlife and reduce fuels

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Ali Hager
/
Aspen Fire Protection District
Smoke billows above Hunter Creek where fire officials conducted a prescribed burn on Friday, May 13, 2022.
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Halle Zander
/
Aspen Public Radio
A helicopter takes off to conduct a survey of the land designated for a prescribed burn on Friday, May 13, 2022 in Hunter Creek. On board was Dan Sebern, a helitech supervisor who helped ignite the fire.

The US Forest Service, the Aspen Fire Protection District, and other partners teamed-up today for a prescribed burn on up to 1,200 acres in Hunter Creek above Aspen.

The goal of the project is twofold.

First, wildlife biologists want to clear out some of the older brush and trees to make room for new growth.

Phil Nyland is the district wildlife biologist for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, on the White River National Forest.

He says elk and deer depend on the area during the winter, and the older brush doesn’t provide a lot of nutrients.

"They rely on this brush and this aspen to provide them food," said Nyland. "They browse on those young new stems that grow after this fire."

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Halle Zander
/
Aspen Public Radio
Jim Genung points out the service berries in Hunter Creek. The serviceberries have just begun to grow new buds, and this growth stage burns slower than more mature plants. Genung says this helps slow down the prescribed burn and makes the fire easier to control.

The second goal was to reduce fuels in the area.

Jim Genung is with the Interagency Fire Management Unit, and was overseeing the prescribed burn operation.

He says the low wind speeds Friday and the green grass in Hunter Creek are ideal conditions for controlling a fire.

"So we’re trying to get some fire back in here," said Genung. "And that’ll help reduce the hazard of a more catastrophic or large wildfire coming through here. It’ll reduce that fire behavior."

By eliminating dead brush from the landscape, firefighters have a better chance of fighting potential wildfires in Hunter Creek over the summer.

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Halle Zander
/
Aspen Public Radio
Dan Sebern, a helitech supervisor, demonstrates how a plastic sphere dispenser operates, while at a prescribed burn in Hunter Creek on May 13, 2022. An injection of glycol causes the spheres to ignite, and pilots drop the spheres in the designated burn area.

Halle is an award-winning journalist and the All Things Considered anchor for Aspen Public Radio. She has been recognized for her work by the Public Media Journalists Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Before she began working full-time with Aspen Public Radio in September 2021, Halle was a freelance broadcast journalist for both Aspen Public Radio and KDNK. Halle studied environmental analysis at Pitzer College. She was an educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and at the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment program, where she taught youth radio and managed a weekly public affairs show.