Logging operations near Miners Creek Road and Iron Springs spark clear-cutting controversy
Ryan Summerlin January 15, 2014
National forest land along Miners Creek Road and in the Iron Springs area, located in the Dillon Ranger District between Frisco and Breckenridge in Summit County, will undergo mitigation efforts, with logging set to start in the next few weeks.
The winter operations will continue through March. The contractor, West Range Reclamation, will cut and haul trees, and the public can expect log-truck and chip-van traffic on Miners Creek Road, County Commons, the Farmer’s Korner area and along Colorado Highway 9.
The project was evaluated in the 2011 Ophir Mountain Forest Health and Fuels Environmental Analysis, part of the White River National Forest’s 10-year stewardship contract — an effort to mitigate damage as a result of the recent mountain pine-beetle epidemic. The plan is to work on 1,000 acres in the area every year.
Summit County author and historian Mary Ellen Gilliland said she and other outdoor enthusiasts are concerned about the U.S. Forest Service plan to clear-cut trees in an area that includes popular, highly used trails. The new timber cut in the Ophir Mountain section of trail threatens to disrupt skiing and snowshoeing in the area, she said. Gilliland said while the cuts were approved in 2011, she and others are hoping the trees near the trail can be spared.
“There’s already heavy cutting around Gold Hill, close by on Peaks Trail, and the area gets overrun by bulldozers and then the forest floor is devastated,” she said. “I hope the contractor will move back a little from the trail, where reduction could still be accomplished, not cut right alongside where people will just see these stumps.”
According to the project’s proposed action plan, the main purpose of the clear-cutting is to reduce fuel loads and expedite forest regeneration. The proposal to clear dead and dying trees on and around Ophir Mountain attracted some controversy when it was first announced.
“This project should just be slightly amended,” Gilliland said. “It’s already been passed. I know there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. You can mitigate the forest fire threat, but should also mitigate the degradation of the outdoor experience for mountain bikers and hikers in the summer, cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter.”
Ken Cunning, Forest Service representative, said this winter’s projects include logging near Miners Creek Road, to clear 11 acres, and along Highway 9 near Iron Springs, to clear roughly 70 acres.
“A lot of these projects are working on important fuel mitigation, as well as trying to get some different species for diversity of the next multiple years,” he said.
Gilliland said there are relatively few dead lodgepole in many of the planned clear-cut areas, and in some cases after the dead needles fall after about two to three years — which has already happened — the fire danger is diminished because there is little overstory to fuel a crown fire.
“No one wants a wildfire, but the areas (where) they plan to do this reduction, there’s nothing close there — no homes, no people,” Gilliland said.
West Range Reclamation was awarded the contract in late 2012, but because of other commitments across the state could not start work until now. Cunning said once work begins, roads and ski and bike trails will be marked with caution signs to alert passersby about the logging operations.
The majority of the product, he said, will be ground up and hauled to Gypsum, where it will be used to power the Eagle Valley Clean Energy plant. A representative from West Range Reclamation could not be reached for comment.
The Dillon Ranger District does not anticipate a need for road or trail closures as a result of the work, but the public is urged to use caution if in the vicinity. Questions should be directed to the Dillon Ranger District office at (970) 468-5400.