A flurry of forest projects in progress, on the way | SummitDaily.com

A flurry of forest projects in progress, on the way

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Summit Daily file photo/Mark Fox

SUMMIT COUNTY – As the mountain pine beetle continues its march across Summit County’s forests, the Dillon Ranger District is following diligently in its path.

Forest Service officials have more than a dozen projects on the way or already under way to reduce risks from fire and falling trees and to accelerate forest regrowth.

Anyone who has walked along the Tenderfoot Trail near Dillon has seen a glimpse of the Forest Service’s efforts to remove dead and dying trees along roads and trails in the White River National Forest. Such trees pose threats to hikers, bikers and motorists, since lodgepole pines killed by the mountain pine beetle can come crashing down without warning.

Similar work will take place along roads and trails throughout the Dillon Ranger District over the course of a few years. This summer, crews are conducting surveys to determine which areas need attention.

“We’ve got crews all throughout the district, walking those trails and roads, inventorying them and assessing hazards,” Dillon District ranger Jan Cutts said. “In the meantime, where we see really bad spots, we’ve got crews taking down hazard trees. That’s happening in every district at the forest level.”

Once the inventory is complete, most likely in the fall, the Forest Service will hire contractors to fell the trees. The inventory process, and the subsequent arrangement of contracts is funded by $30 million in federal money allocated to address the bark-beetle epidemic in Colorado.

“That was our opportunity to do what we’ve needed to do for awhile now,” Cutts said.

Roads in the project include Miner’s Creek, Keystone Gulch, Lower Spring Creek, Elliot Ridge, First Cut Across and Spring Creek roads. Surveyed trails include established routes outside of wilderness and roadless areas, including about 14 miles of the Colorado Trail.

The Forest Service is planning for a project to remove dead trees along power lines as well. Utility companies already have the authority to conduct work in the right of way underneath the lines, but the proposal would allow for treatment within 400 feet, giving crews more flexibility in identifying hazards and removing them.

Significant progress has been made along Straight Creek (near the Eisenhower Tunnel), Iron Springs (near Summit Medical Center) and in the Keystone Stewardship Project (along Swan Mountain Road). Crews on those projects have removed dead trees on almost 500 acres, accelerating regeneration of new forest.

Similar work began earlier this season around the Wildernest neighborhood, but the Forest Service was unhappy with the contractor’s progress, and it terminated the contract. The original project has since fallen under the umbrella of the broader White River National Forest Wildland Urban Interface Stewardship Project, which will promote forest regrowth and create defensible space around human development, reducing the risk of damage from wildfires. The 1,396-acre project will include areas in or near Wildernest, Mesa Cortina, Ruby Ranch, Eagles Nest, Three Peaks, Pebble Creek and Sierra Bosque subdivisions. Work will also take place on the Frisco Peninsula, Lake Hill, Meadow Creek, Ryan Gulch and Salt Lick areas.

The Forest Service is still in the planning phases for two large forest-health projects that would each cover thousands of acres. The Breckenridge Forest Health and Fuels Project would include treatments on 5,600 acres in the Breckenridge area. An Environmental Analysis is due out for public review in mid-September. The 2,500-acre Ophir Mountain Forest Health Project would cover areas from Miner’s Creek south to Red Tail Ranch, west of Highway 9.

Such projects are taking place in national forests throughout Colorado and beyond. And their successful completion will depend upon securing sources of adequate funding.

“When I heard about this job and was coming forward, I heard about (the pine beetle epidemic), but I had no idea it could be like this,” Cutts said. “This infestation isn’t just Colorado. It’s the whole West. Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon – all those states are dealing with some level of bark beetle infestation.”

According to Cutts, one of the biggest challenges of dealing with the bark beetle epidemic will endure long after treatment projects are complete.

“Our challenge is to look into the future, to communicate to future generations what happened here so they can get the forest to a healthy place in 70 or 80 years,” she said.

SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.

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