The Forest Service hosted a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 20, to give Summit County residents a chance to provide input before the agency designs a vegetation management plan, mostly clear-cutting, for specific areas around Keystone.
“It’s easier if people come to the table earlier on,” said Brett Crary, silviculturalist with the White River National Forest, rather than a couple of years into the planning process.
About 10 residents attended the afternoon meeting at the Keystone Center. Crary led the discussion, and Dillon Ranger District deputy district ranger Cynthia Keller and wildlife biologist Ashley Nettles also answered questions.
Crary gave a presentation on why and how the Forest Service does vegetation management in Summit and the agency’s long-term goals for the county’s forests.
He talked about how lodgepole pine evolved with wildfire to become the dominant tree species in the area. While spruce and fir trees aren’t fire-adapted species, lodgepole pine needs fire to reproduce.
Then he explained the wildfire paradox, or the idea that human suppression of large fires that threaten communities ensures the inevitability of those fires. However, he said, government agencies will continue suppressing fires because they’re obligated to protect people and property.
The number of fallen, beetle-killed trees has exacerbated the potential for severe wildfires, he said, so the Forest Service clear-cuts to reduce that risk, mimic the effects of fire on the ecology and put the timber, now in higher demand because of the bioenergy plant in Gypsum, to human use.
He added that cutting down chunks of forest around the Keystone area fits with the Forest Service’s long-term goal of creating more diversity of age in the trees throughout the Dillon Ranger District. The agency wants to continue cutting trees over generations to create forests less susceptible to wildfire and insect and disease epidemics.
“We don’t want every area to look like a managed forest,” Crary said, but that would be impossible because the majority of Summit’s forests are too inaccessible to cut.
Now Crary is working on a proposal for clear-cutting in Keystone Gulch, an area of concern for Denver Water and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, as well as around Fry Gulch, Tenderfoot Mountain and Swan Mountain Road, and he asked if people had specific areas they thought should be cut or not cut or knew of resources that need protection.
“Just because we can treat it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should,” he said. The agency learned from public outcry about contract work done in the last year on the Peaks and Gold Hill trails, Keller said, and likely will mark trails in the future so contractors don’t pile slash on them.
A few residents asked about whether the new bioenergy plant has spurred the Forest Service to do more cutting, to which the agency representatives responded that the contractors they work with aren’t bound to take the wood to the plant but choose to do so anyway. The way the contract goes, the workers’ labor is worth more than the wood collected, Crary said, so “we end up paying a lot more to get rid of it.”
He said he welcomed comments that he’ll try to incorporate while designing the overall project plan, which people also can comment on after the formal proposal comes out later in the fall.
To submit comments or ask questions, call the Dillon Ranger District at (970) 468-5400 or visit its Silverthorne office at 680 Blue River Parkway.