By Darrell Arnold
HUERFANO- For 35 years, Colorado District Forester Clarence "C.K." Morey has been managing the state and private-land forests of Huerfano and Las Animas Counties. Based in La Veta, Morey spends between 60 and 90 hours a week (depending on the season) on a variety of programs designed to protect and preserve our forest resources.
"I work primarily with the private landowners," says Morey, "but I also do the forest management on the state school sections. Eighty percent of my job deals with fire management, but I also harvest firewood, cut saw logs for sawmills, and sell seedlings for transplant."
Much of what Morey does on private land is requested by landowners. "We secure grants and work with them to improve the forest health around their homes and to do defensible space work to protect them against fires. By thinning the trees, we not only reduce the potential fuel load, but we also make the forest healthier so the trees are more resistant to attack by pine beetles."
Morey has worked with the city of Trinidad to improve the beetle situation on their watershed, especially around Monument and North Lakes. Removing infested trees reduces the pine beetle population.
In addition, Morey works with the park and tree boards of the towns, getting trees planted, removing hazard trees, and working with insect disease problems.
"We can also assist ranchers who have junipers taking over their ranches or we can refer them to the Natural Resource Conservation Service which can help them with funding to reduce encroachment into their grasslands."
Most recently, Morey has been working with the Santa Fe Trail Ranch, west of Raton Pass, to create shaded fuel breaks.
Morey explains, "That’s where, instead of clearing everything off the land and just having bare ground, you leave trees at certain spacings. The idea is to prevent crown fires. Instead of the fire spreading from crown to crown, it is forced to come back to the ground where you can fight it.
"This is grant work that allows us to hire loggers who thin out the trees and salvage posts, poles, and some trees suitable for saw logs. These breaks remove the lighter fuels. We still have a canopy but there is significant separation between the trees."
According to Morey, they’ve already accomplished five miles of shaded fuel breaks on a ridgeline separating Long’s Canyon from the Santa Fe Trail Ranch as well as 11 miles along the Colorado/New Mexico line. "We want to extend it all the way over to I-25."
The greatly increased number of small-parcel landowners in the last 20 years or so has changed Morey’s job, significantly.
"It has certainly increased my workload, but I do have a few volunteers who help me with that. We look at the fire issues in each community and make plans and update them on a regular basis. Certainly the goal is to have every subdivision in the county have a wildfire protection plan. Each one of those plans becomes a chapter in the county community wildfire protection plan."