Around The Parks: Fire Update, Mesa Verde SAR, Tribal National Park

Crews were gaining the upper hand Monday on a fire at Rocky Mountain National Park, while teams were dispatched to battle a backcountry blaze at Dinosaur National Monument. Meanwhile, a search for a missing visitor at Mesa Verde National Park was scaled back, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe was moving closer to managing the southern half of Badlands National Park.

At Rocky Mountain, firefighters had managed to contain about 75 percent of the Big Meadows Fire, which was estimated at 604 acres. Operations for the day were to focus on reinforcing containment lines and line rehabilitation.

The Timber Lake Trail opened for day use, while closures remained in effect for the Onahu Trail, the Green Mountain Trail, and the lower Tonahutu Trail. Trail closures do affect a section of the Continental Divide Trail that passes through the park.

All major roads and facilities in Rocky Mountain National Park are open. Visitors were strongly cautioned to be aware of increased traffic and aircraft associated with the fire.

At Dinosaur National Monument in western Colorado, fire crews were conducting suppression actions on the Wild/Hacking fire on Wild Mountain. The fire's size was estimated at just below 400 acres, though that could change once additional surveys are completed. Originally, the Wild/Hacking fire began as two separate fires, the result of lightning strikes lastThursday, but they had merged into one fire by Friday.

Located in a remote portion of the monument without any threat to structures, fire managers analyzed a number of factors and decided to manage the Wild/Hacking fire for the natural benefits fire provides, including fuel reduction, returning nutrients to the soil and improving wildlife habitat and forage.

"As the fire moved around, there was the potential for it to enter into terrain that would make suppression efforts, if needed, very challenging," said Fire Management Officer Joe Flores. "We also wanted to make sure that the fire did not pose any risk of moving outside the monument boundaries and impacting our neighboring land owners and managers. We achieved the objectives we were hoping for with the initial management and the suppression actions we are now taking are proving successful as well."

The fire remains within the Colorado portion of Dinosaur National Monument. Fire managers continue to work with the Bureau of Land Management and private property owners in the area on the management of the fire. There was no threat to either the Jones Hole or Harpers Corner areas of the monument even though visitors to those areas may encounter smoke.

In Mesa Verde National Park, the search for Mitchell Stehling has been scaled back due to lack of clues and new information. On Friday, the trail where the 51-year-old Texas man was last seen and nearby canyons were again searched. Rangers used the park's helicopter to search the canyons and mesas of the park while ground-based teams thoroughly searched nearby canyons and trails. The saturation of this area by searchers, dog teams, a helicopter, and horse patrol provided a great deal of coverage, but resulted in no clues.

A small team of rangers was to continue to focus their search in the areas where Mr. Stehling was last seen. Flyers with Mr. Stehling's picture and description remain posted throughout the park. Visitors who hiked the Petroglyph Trail on Sunday, June 9 and/or Monday, June 10 are asked to call park law enforcement at 970-529-4422.

In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is finalizing plans with the National Park Service to take over management of the south district of Badlands National Park. One aspect of this new management is a goal to return 1,000 bison to the landscape.

The South Unit of Badlands is entirely within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The Park Service and the tribe have worked together to manage the South Unit’s 133,000 acres for almost 40 years.

Both former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Park Service Director Jon Jarvis have supported the transfer, which needs congressional legislation to be finalized.