Don Cacace
Special to the Daily

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April 16, 2014
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Cacace: Ophir Mountain clear-cutting is unnecessary surgery

The patient has survived the disease, but surgery will go on ... ”

This unnecessary surgery is not being performed at Summit Medical Center but on Ophir Mountain between Breckenridge and Frisco by large, mechanized, “Avatar”-like tree cutters funded by the U.S. Forest Service.

In 2010, the pine beetle was predicted to kill 90 percent of this forest. The Forest Service planned to remove these dead trees through numerous large clear-cuts. The plan was funded and approved. The idea was to remove the dead wood, which could otherwise be fuel for a forest fire, and speed regeneration of a new forest … a reasonable plan.

However, the beetle activity dropped considerably in 2011. They apparently didn’t read the plan. All parties agree the beetle is now gone. In some cases, the beetle got less than 30 percent of the lodgepole and left multi-age forests of lodgepole along with spruce, fir and aspen. Much of this forest is now flourishing with new sun and plenty of moisture. Thinning out the oldest trees is nature’s way of renewing this forest, and it is working.

However, the now-outsized Ophir clear-cuts are going forward as originally planned. In total, it will be roughly a 4.5-mile-long, 1.5-mile-deep clear-cut. It will go from the end of the Dillon Reservoir southeast of Frisco to the edge of Breckenridge on the west side of Highway 9. Our forest on the mend is being cut down with machines too large to selectively cut, so everything must go. The Gold Hill forest is already gone.

Summit County locals live here to be in the forest. People travel from around the world to hike, ski and enjoy nature in Summit County’s pristine forests. Animals use the forest for food and shelter. The Summit Daily has been full of letters from citizens who, after witnessing the devastation of the Gold Hill Trail, are asking the Forest Service to scale back these unnecessary clear-cuts.

And it is not only citizens who are opposed to the clear-cuts. Experts are also opposed to the scope of the cuts.

In 2010, Colorado Wild, a leading Colorado-based conservation organization, reviewed in detail the proposed Ophir clear-cuts and determined the Forest Service had overreached based on impacts to wildlife, scenic values and wildfire protections, concluding that “the project area should be substantially reduced to focus treatments on areas near homes and infrastructure, where fuel reductions will be beneficial.”

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, commenting on the pine beetle clear-cuts said, “The White River National Forest is seeing a landscape scale transition and regeneration into a new forest type as older trees die and new vegetation finds ways to best flourish under today’s environmental constraints and opportunities…. The White River National Forest staff, and the Forest Service in general, need to learn to evaluate not only the “how,” but more important the “should” of their management proposals. Perhaps they can learn a lesson from the forest itself in adapting to change rather than attempting to redesign something out of their control.”

And finally, Mary Ellen Gilliland, a Summit County historian and author, states in an article calling for preservation of the Peaks Trail, “The 2010-11 rationale, which drove the Ophir Mountain timber cuts, and those continuing toward Breckenridge, is now unfounded. Let’s ask the USFS, our county commissioners and legislators to divert the fire mitigation dollars to more effective projects ... ”

Your voice can help to preserve some of the Ophir Forest and the Peaks Trail. Please let your elected officials and the Forest Service know your thoughts. The Ophir clear-cuts will not be the last in Summit County. New rounds of wildfire funding and looser regulations will result in the clear-cutting of thousands of additional acres of trees in the White River National Forest.

There is a meeting on Thursday of the Forest Health Task Force at noon in the Silverthorne Library, where the Forest Service will discuss the “Future of Our Summit County Forests.” Please plan on attending to learn more about this issue. In addition, there will be an opportunity to speak, if desired.

Don Cacace lives in Frisco.


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The Summit Daily Updated Apr 16, 2014 11:30AM Published Apr 16, 2014 11:30AM Copyright 2014 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.