Thank you for publishing Summit County historian Mary Ellen Gilliland’s thoughtful article on the need for change to the planned Ophir Mountain clear-cuts.
John Maynard Keynes famously replied to criticism that he had changed his views on monetary policy by saying, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
For the planned Ophir Mountain clear-cut, the facts have happily changed. The sudden end of mountain pine beetle epidemic left far more of this cherished forest unexpectedly alive. Now, we are asking the U.S. Forest Service to change its plans.
The approved clear-cut is 4 miles long by 1.5 miles deep. It includes the majority of trees, dead and alive, on the west side of Highway 9 from the Dillon Reservoir to Coyne Valley Road in Breckenridge. This massive clear-cut will impact many popular hiking trails, including the Peaks Trail, the Colorado Trail, Rainbow Lake Trail, along with the summit of Ophir Mountain. It will be a highly visible scar to residents and guests of Summit County for decades to come.
The Summit County beetle epidemic crashed in 2011, just after the Forest Service, using 2010 data and projections, approved the clear-cut of 1,500 acres of forest between Frisco and Breckenridge. The assumption was that these lodgepole pine stands would reach 80 to 90 percent mortality. We were all pessimistic then.
The good news is with the unforeseen end of the epidemic, many of the planned clear-cut acres, have more than half of their trees green and thriving after our wet summer. The bad news is the Forest Service’s clear-cut of live and dead trees is moving forward unabated.
We urge the Forest Service to scale back these clear-cuts and include adaptive-management protection for stands with less than 60 percent mortality. It would be a mistake to make the impact of the pine beetle epidemic worse by following through on a well-intentioned, but now outdated, plan.