FORT CARSON, Colo. — Directorate of Public Works (DPW) forestry and biologist staff are partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to mitigate potential wildfires along the eastern shoulder of Highway 115 through a tree thinning and vegetation clearing project that started Jan. 19, 2021.
The collaborative project, which encompasses 15 miles of road shoulder paralleling Fort Carson’s western boundary beginning south of the Gate 6 (Wilderness Road) entrance, is expected to take three to four years to complete.
“CDOT’s goal is to provide a safe and effective transportation system. Sometimes that takes us off the roadway to mitigate situations that could impact mobility into the future,” said Brad Bauer, CDOT labor trade and craft operations. “The tree mitigation effort with Fort Carson is a win-win for both parties.”
Cutting down dead trees, thinning some live trees and removing flammable vegetation near the roadside improves the effectiveness of using Highway 115 as a firebreak to prevent the spread of wildfire, explained Jeff McLemore, DPW forester.
After reducing the amount of “fire fuel” from the road shoulder, potential fires starting on the side of the highway from tossed cigarettes, or wildfires that approach the highway, will stay low to the ground and not become canopy fires. Tree canopy and shrub fires are more challenging to put out than grass fires, as they burn with higher intensity and embers can spread further.
An additional benefit of thinning shoulder vegetation is that wildlife in the area is more visible, helping avoid vehicle accidents.
The CDOT efforts complement similar, ongoing work by DPW staff to thin vegetation inside Fort Carson’s boundary fence along the entire 72-mile-long, 30-foot-wide soil perimeter firebreak, said McLemore.
Prior to removing some vegetation and trees, biologists from Fort Carson and CDOT evaluated the area for breeding bird habitat, such as certain trees with cavities and shrubs are used by migratory breeding birds.
“Fort Carson’s partnership with CDOT is another great example of state and federal governments working together for worthy causes,” said Carlos Rivero-deAguilar, DPW Environmental Division chief. “Soldier’s training, highway safety and area wildlife will all benefit from this project for years to come”
The CDOT crews, whose workload is heavily dependent on weather conditions, will work on the fire mitigation project during periods when not working their primary mission to clear snow on highway systems. Vegetation thinning efforts are not expected to impact traffic flow along Highway 115.