Saturday, 17 Apr 2021

Smoke may be visible across Denver with controlled burn planned for Rocky Mountain Arsenal on Monday – The Denver Post

Federal land managers at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on Monday morning were preparing to conduct a controlled burn in an effort to invigorate about 875 acres of short-grass prairie just north of Denver where bison are multiplying.

Depending on wind, they’ll deploy yellow-clad crews equipped with drip torches to try to simulate natural burn processes.

The refuge, located just north of Denver in Commerce City, previously served as the site of a military chemical weapons plant and production facility for pesticides such as DDT. This led to one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters. The weapons and pesticide work leaked toxic chemicals, contaminating soil and water. A $2.1 billion cleanup included the burial of the worst material in a clay-capped core area.

Since 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has managed the refuge for wildlife and growing numbers of visitors. A fenced, 1,084-acre core area remains under Army control.

State health officials oversee controlled burns at the refuge to minimize the temporary impact on metro air quality.

Federal ecologists favor prescribed burns as a smart and cost-efficient tool for restoring degraded landscapes.

The burning was to be done between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday and smoke could be visible for several miles.

Burning the prairie is expected to boost the growth of native vegetation, with a side benefit of reducing litter strewn about by visitors. The flames also help control weeds and improve habitat for wildlife. And controlled burns help manage the risks of uncontrolled wildfires close to housing developments.

Restoring native prairie has proved difficult but gradually is succeeding, ensuring a safe space for wildlife. Each foraging bison eats about 40 pounds a day of dry grass. A herd of about 200 bison now thrives at the refuge.


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