Extensive logging proposed near Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

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Extensive logging proposed near Breckenridge

SUMMIT COUNTY – Some residents of the Peak 7 neighborhood, near Breckenridge, say the U.S. Forest Service’s latest proposal for a forest health and fuels project would include clear cuts extending far beyond the bounds of the wildfire red zone, where homes are at risk.

“It’s excessive,” said Jane Hendrix, a long-time resident of the area. Hendrix said the neighborhood has already worked to clear dead trees from private lands in the area. She believes the Forest Service is taking advantage of what she called the “so-called forest health crisis” to pursue a commercial timber sale.

“They’re going to devastate all the public land that borders our private property,” Hendrix said, calling on residents to educate themselves about the plan and to attend a Nov. 17 open house on the project.

Hendrix is trying to rally her neighbors to scrutinize the logging area. She said the proposed clear-cutting zones would dwarf the current patch cuts around Peak 7 and march far up the slopes of the Tenmile Range.

“Maybe they don’t need to cut as much as they’re saying,” said Peak 7 resident Scott Jorgenson.

Hendrix and others are also worried the logging project could have a negative impact on the Peaks Trail.

District Ranger Jan Cutts said the concerns express by Hendrix are exactly the type of comments the Forest Service wants during the scoping process.

“We need to strike a balance between what property owners would like to see in their backyard and what we need to do for forest health,” Cutts said. The Forest Service wants to address those concerns up-front, before the final decision is made, she added.

Eagle-based forester Brett Crary said the boundaries of the treatment area at Peak 7 were based in part on feedback from county officials.

“They wanted us to look at more than just defensible space,” Crary said. In the bigger picture, the project includes opportunities for lodgepole and aspen regeneration in the area, he explained. Rather than just creating a “bathtub-ring effect by cutting a 400-foot defensible space zone,” the Forest Service tried to tie the new project together with earlier logging zones around Peak 7. Crary said local input came from the county’s open space department and from Breckenridge open space experts.

In general, the county and Forest Service have worked well together, according to assistant county manager Steve Hill.

“We’re pretty much in alignment on what needs to be done,” Hill said. Not discounting neighborhood concerns, he said it’s important to consider the big picture. There are about 120,000 acres in need of some type of treatment in Summit County. At best, only about 15,000 acres will be treated, he said.

The project covers about 5,700 acres stretching from Farmer’s Korner to the Golden Horseshoe and Hoosier Pass to the south. The Forest Service will evaluate the project under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which limits public comment and expedites the review and approval process.

It’s important for residents to get involved in right now, because there won’t be opportunity for public comment once the Forest Service completes its environmental studies, said forest activist Rocky Smith. Under the streamlined review, the agency doesn’t have to consider alternatives other than the proposed action, he said.

Additionally, the public only has 30 days after the decision is made to challenge the Forest Service.

Smith, who will file formal comments on behalf of the environmental group Colorado Wild, said he has questions about the fundamental economics of the project, given the low demand for wood. According to most economic forecasts, that isn’t likely to change in the next couple of years, he said.

“The Forest Service needs to answer questions about how they’re going to deal with roadless areas in this proposal,” Smith said. He also said he has concerns about clear cutting in areas where there are other trees mixed in with lodgepoles.

“They need to be planning for a future forest, and here they have a golden opportunity,” he said, advocating for more selective logging in parts of the project area.