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Ute Park Fire Recovery Update

On May 31, 2018 the Ute Park Fire began close to the Philmont Scout Ranch property line near Cimarroncita. Over the next few weeks, brave firefighters fought this and several other wildfires around the ranch. Before the fire was even out, people like you stepped up and asked how you could help. Philmont has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. To date, we have received more than $450,000 in donations! Through service projects coordinated by the Philmont Staff Association and the Order of the Arrow more than 150 volunteers will contribute more than 7,200 hours of service to Philmont in support of recovery efforts.

What is Philmont doing to recover?

Philmont is working closely with local, state, and federal resources to help with fire recovery. The plans will involve more than $1,000,000 in projects over the next 12 months. Philmont has identified three objectives that your donations will be used:

  1. Prepare to host crews in 2019
  2. Restoration work in the burn
  3. Fire mitigation work to reduce the threat of wildfire in the future

Prepare to host crews in 2019

With the severity and location of the Ute Park Fire, Philmont has some work to do in order to ensure the infrastructure will be available to host crews in 2019. We must expand existing campsites, and create several new staff and trail camps.

Members of the Philmont Conservation Staff are working across the Ranch to install 200 new campsites by this summer. Since January 85 new campsites have been installed.

Prior to 1993, Philmont had a staff camp at Santa Claus. Through the hard work of our maintenance team, the Santa Claus staff cabin was renovated and is ready to welcome crews this summer. Santa Claus will replace Harlan as the shotgun shooting camp. Since Harlan is in the burn scar, this camp will not be used.

Structures at Dean Cow were lost in the fire. The rock-climbing program that was there will be moved to the Chase Cow Camp located on the Chase Ranch. This camp features a historic cabin, beautiful rock features, and corrals. Our maintenance and conservation staff have constructed a yurt platform and will be installing campsites and a water system. Rock climbing routes will be installed as we get closer to the start of the summer season.

The remains of the Dean Cow Cabin. Philmont lost several structures in this area, including the climbing wall and corrals.
The existing cabin at Chase Cow camp sits in a meadow flanked by ridges and rock features. This historic cabin will be supplemented by a yurt, which will be set up in early June.

Philmont is very thankful for all our neighbors. If it wasn’t for them, Philmont crews would not enjoy some amazing hiking opportunities that connect, and enhance, portions of our treks. The Express UU Bar ranch has graciously allowed Philmont to create a new staff camp at Garcia Cow Camp. This camp is near Philmont’s southern border and will be a living history camp where staff will tell the story of Ernest Thompson Seton, the first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America.

While the commissary and trading post at Ute Gulch sustained minimal damage, the land around the camp was burnt severely, and will not be safe to use this year. The commissary and trading post will be relocated to Cimarroncito.

The fire burned up to the Ute Gulch Cabin, but the building survived with minimal damage.

Restoration work in the burn

The Philmont Conservation Staff and members of the Ranching team are working hard on recovery efforts in the burn. They have several strategies to combat erosion. These plans include reseeding, contour felling, wattle installation, mastication, and the installation of sediment ponds.  Work has been slow due to weather, but will be ongoing over the next few months and years. There are safety concerns while working in the burn area, including falling trees and mud/rock slides during rain events. Philmont has been working very closely with local, state, and federal resources to produce a plan that will ensure the long-term success of efforts in the burn. One agency that Philmont is working with is the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) which is helping Philmont administer a grant that provides 75% of the funding while Philmont matches 25%. Philmont is using donations to fund it’s $150,000 commitment, which will be matched with $450,000 in funds from an NRCS grant to provide $600,000 worth of fire restoration and recovery work.

The photos below show some of the techniques Philmont is using to help restore the burn scar.

Members of the Philmont Recovery Corps work on contour felling. This process uses trees to build a series of contours on a hillside. The logs help catch flowing sediment, creating an area where grass can be planted, take root, and eventually spread. These beds of grass will spread up and down the hillside helping it to stabilize.
Members of the Philmont Recovery Corps move a log into place for a new contour.
Thanks to an anonymous donor Philmont is the proud owner of a Masticator. This tool is being used for a couple of purposes. In the burn scar, as pictured above, the Masticator helps mulch the burned trees. This layer of mulch helps hold the soil in place and retains moisture to promote growth of new grasses. A much larger masticator will be contracted and will continue more of this work in the burn scar. The donated Masticator is also being used across the rest of the Ranch to produce a similar effect as the timber stand improvement crews by removing vegetation, providing more spacing between trees, and improving wildlife habitat. This is described in more detail below.
Runoff from the burn scar has filled in Philmont’s irrigation ditches. Members of the Ranching team utilize a track hoe to reopen the ditch. Funds raised from the fire recovery have allowed Philmont to rent this track hoe prior to purchasing an appropriately sized one for the long-term recovery of the Ranch.

Fire Mitigation Work

The Ute Park Fire was a high severity fire. Most of it was a Crown Fire, meaning the fire spread from tree top to tree top. This type of fire behavior typically burns at a higher intensity, and usually results the loss of vegetation and can sterilize the soil.  The loss of vegetation in combination with steep slopes and highly erodible soil increased the overall impacts that the fire had. Recovery from these types of fires can take decades.

Over the last 110 years, forests across the Western United States have not been allowed to burn.  Human involvement in the prevention of fires and modifying the landscape, has altered the natural fire regimes. As result forests have become unnaturally dense and large amounts of fuel have been allowed to accumulate.  As a result, catastrophic fires are becoming more and more common across the West.  Philmont’s goal is to help restore the forest to their natural cycles and historic forest structure through forestry management. This involves reducing stand densities, removing ladder fuels, and creating openings in the forest canopy.  The outcome from these forest management practices will result in restoring the form and function of our ecosystems and making them more resilient to fire, insects, and changing climate.

The positive effects of timber stand improvement can be seen here. Where the forest was treated, the fire transitioned to a surface fire. Surface fires remove duff, which in turn increases the amount of grasses, flowers, and other herbaceous species. In the untreated forest, the crown fire kills the trees, and severely impact the soil which makes it more susceptible to erosion.
Philmont has purchased a portable sawmill and is utilizing the trees we are thinning from the forest to create lumber we can use to help rebuild latrines and other structures burnt in the fire.
Throughout the summer staff worked along the Beaubien Road between the Lover’s Leap Turnaround, Miners Park, and Crater Lake camps. The goal is to create a shaded fuel break along this important road that services much of the South Country. Shaded fuel breaks will modify fire behavior from crown fires to surface fires, by increasing the distance between trees and reducing the available fuel. Shaded fuel breaks will allow for safer evacuation routes and give better options to fire managers during a fire.
Philmont works closely with the Philmont Fire Department to burn piles of slash when weather conditions allow, to burn excess fuel. These small fires concentrates the damage to the soil, and burning after snowfall helps prevent the fires from spreading to the surrounding vegetation.
This photo shows a stand that is currently being treated next to a stand that is untreated. Notice the increased spacing between trees and the reduced canopy intercept at the bottom of the picture.
Members of the Philmont Staff Association PhilBreak help move logs to the edge of the road near Hunting Lodge. These logs will be trucked out of the backcountry and used to heat homes in Cimarron and surrounding community.

Philmont has been working hard to ensure that we are able to provide a quality program to crews coming in 2019 and beyond. There is still a lot of work to do in both the burn scar and the rest  of the Ranch in order to ensure the forest can thrive and Philmont can protect the Waite Phillips Legacy. Your donations are helping us to achieve these objectives. We want to thank you for your support. We appreciate this time to educate you as we continue to be good stewards of your donations. We still have much to do and will continue to provide wilderness and learning adventures that last a lifetime. We thank you once again for your past and ongoing support.

If you would like to help Philmont continue the restoration efforts described please consider a donation to the disaster relief fund.

2 responses to “Ute Park Fire Recovery Update”

  1. Admiring all your hard work.
    As a forester, what you are doing makes sense ecologically and for the future safety of the Ranch.
    I have great memories of Philmont, and you are working to make memories for all the staff and future crews that attend.
    All the best!

  2. Hard to see Dean Cow. I stayed there in 2010. Hope to see pics of Harlan some time. It was one of my favorite camps. It is good to see Santa Claus being used again. We rode out a storm on Christmas in July in 2013 on the porch of that cabin. Great work with all of the recovery.

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