Forest Service runs into obstacles while trying to suppress fewer fires

For years, federal land managers have aimed at letting wildfires burn to boost forest health — and save taxpayers some of the billions the government spends dousing nearly every blaze.

“We’re looking for opportunities to let fire play its natural role in the landscape,” regional U.S. Forest Service chief Rick Cables said this week.

But Colorado’s growing population and energy industry near forests, combined with surging numbers of wildfires, is making a let-it-burn approach increasingly difficult.

Twenty-seven wildfires have threatened the northern Front Range suburbs this month, nine times the 15-year March average of three.

Rather than try to let some wildfires burn to stimulate forests and grasslands, federal officials have moved into traditional suppression, mobilizing ground crews early and pushing to pre-position slurry bombers on runways to stop the flames.

Over the past year, federal land managers in Colorado let 30 remote wildfires run their course, agency data show. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 wildfires were suppressed in Colorado.

Nationwide, firefighters suppress about 99 percent of the more than 71,000 wildfires that break out each year, mostly in Western states.

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Developers plan reservoir — without water to fill it

Developers citing the need to deal with looming water shortages propose to build a massive reservoir in the foothills southwest of Denver.

But they don’t have water to fill it.

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Colorado farmland goes dry as suburbs secure water supplies

Colorado farmers still own more than 80 percent of water flowing in the state, but control is rapidly passing from them as growing suburbs move to secure supplies for the future.

The scramble is intensifying as aging farmers offer their valuable water rights to thirsty cities, drying up ag land so quickly that state overseers are worried about the life span of Colorado’s agricultural economy.

“The status quo has been going to agriculture (interests) and buying and drying. That’s not good,” said John Stulp, a cattle rancher and former state agriculture commissioner who is Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special policy adviser on water. “We need to do it in a smarter way.”

Since 1987, Colorado farmers and ranchers have sold at least 191,000 acre-feet of water to suburbs, according to a review of water transactional data.

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