After a winter that brought down an onslaught of avalanches, the Bureau of Land Management has come up with a unique way to get it all cleaned up: free firewood collection permits.
“It’s a win-win for both us and the public,” said Brant Porter, spokesmen for the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM recently announced free permits available for cutting and collecting firewood from avalanche slide paths on public lands along the Alpine Loop Backcountry Scenic Byway in Hinsdale and San Juan counties.
“The Alpine Loop sustained historic levels of avalanches over the course of the winter, and as a part of that, those avalanches have left all sorts of wood and debris and rocks,” Porter said. “This effort will help us get some of that debris out of the area.”
This winter, nearly 1,000 avalanches were reported to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in the San Juan Mountains. And that’s just slides that were observed and reported.
As the snow started to melt this spring and summer, the extent of the damage to the backcountry started to become better understood.
Willy Tookey, San Juan County administrator, said it took a herculean effort from road crews in Hinsdale, Ouray and San Juan counties to get the popular Alpine Loop open, a 63-mile drive that crosses the rugged and scenic backcountry of the San Juan Mountains.
The loop opened officially July 16, the latest Tookey can remember it opening.
“It was just a difficult year to get any of the roads open,” Tookey said. “They’re still out there working.”
The BLM’s offering will allow the public to help in the cleanup effort and also fulfill some people’s need for firewood, Porter said.
While there is no charge to collect wood, people do need a signed BLM permit before cutting and collecting. Part of the reason is to educate people where cutting is allowed, and how to do it safely, Porter said.
“We know folks are going to be excited about the opportunity to go out and get a head start on firewood collection this year, but we want to make sure people are aware these aren’t neat piles, and the natural state of slide paths are inherently unstable,” he said.
A news release issued by the BLM said permit holders should exercise extreme caution when cutting wood left in slide paths or in debris piles because “trees and limbs can be under pressure from other trees, and when cut, move unexpectedly.
“Dirt and rocks may damage saws. Limbs, root wads and unused woody debris cut away from logs should be piled away from roads and away from debris piles. Permit holders are asked to respect private property and mining claims by not trespassing or cutting firewood on private lands.”
The public may also collect downed firewood along Hinsdale County roads 20, 22, 24, 30 and 35, and within 30 feet of San Juan County roads 2, 4, 23, 24 and 110.
More information about permits in Hinsdale County can be found at the Gunnison Field Office or by calling (970) 642-4940. More information about permits in San Juan County can be found at the BLM’s Silverton office or by calling 387-9871.