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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

July 18 , 2002

Contact: Lee Carlson, USFWS, 303-275-2370
               Jeff Peterson, USFWS, 303-275-2370
               Jan Hackett, CSFS, 970-491-7287
               Diane Katzenberger, USFWS, 303-236-7917 x 408


Due to this year’s extreme wildfire dangers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) have developed guidelines to enable Colorado residents to create defensible spaces around some private structures to hinder wildfire while remaining in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

The Colorado State Forest Service has promoted the completion of defensible spaces by private landowners for years. The additional USFWS guidelines are designed to give homeowners the latitude to protect their homes against wildfires while providing suitable measures to protect any endangered species that may occur in the vicinity of such structures. The guidelines must be followed in order for a landowner to be in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The guidelines will be in effect until December 31, 2002, but will serve as basis for the development of permanent guidelines for future use in similar situations.

"While we understand that the creation of defensible spaces has the possibility of impacting the habitat of several endangered species, the USFWS also realizes that homeowners need to do whatever is necessary to protect their property," said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Mountain-Prairie Region of the USFWS.

"If the guidelines are followed, homeowners will be able to help defend their property from wildfire while still maintaining adequate species habitat. Not only will these measures slow the spread of fire towards a structure, but should also slow the spread of a structure fire to the surrounding wildland," added Morgenweck.

Land-management agencies have a responsibility to work with private landowners to help protect human lives, property and the state’s natural resources from the effects of catastrophic wildfire," said Jim Hubbard, director, CSFS. "The early, large fires we are experiencing this year demonstrate the severity of forest conditions in the state and the risks those conditions impose on people, property and natural resources. The most effective way to mitigate that risk is for local, state and federal agencies to work together with private landowners to reduce fuels to create defensible space across land ownerships."

Under the guidelines, homeowners will be able to mow or trim grasses, shrubs, trees and other potential fuels for fire from around their homes. The guidelines are to be used only for the purpose of developing defensible spaces around privately-owned structures that are used primarily as housing for humans or animals. They do not apply to temporary structures.

If a homeowner is unsure whether a federally listed species or its habitat may be present on his or her property, the USFWS recommends that the landowner follow the guidelines. Furthermore, if a landowner is interested in creating a defensible space, which does not conform to the guidelines, the landowner should contact the USFWS to discuss the proper procedures.

"As always, the USFWS’s main concern is human safety," said Morgenweck. "Wildfires constitute an emergency under the Endangered Species Act, and in no circumstances is emergency response to be delayed or obstructed because of Endangered Species Act considerations."

"Not only will these guidelines provide a means to protect private property, but will also increase a firefighter’s ability to fight the fire," added Morgenweck.

Federally listed species that could be potentially affected by habitat modifications are: the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, Canada Lynx, Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Pawnee Montane Skipper, and Mexican Spotted Owl.

Fore more information including the guidelines and fact sheets, please visit the USFWS’s web site at

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at

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