A new forest on the way in Summit County

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily / Sandy Briggs Volunteers gathered near Straight Creek to learn about the newest forest project: Monitoring forest plots for regeneration following a clear cut and gathering data. The project was created by Forest Health Task Force members and operates through Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.

On Sunday, long-time Breckenridge resident Eric Pierson visited his 45-foot diameter plot in the clear-cut area near Straight Creek outside of Silverthorne.

There, he spent a leisurely afternoon flagging the circumference and counting trees. He marked the two lodgepoles he found with pink flags and determined that, since they were only about 1-inch tall, they were just germinating and soon, there would be more.

Pierson, who works by day for Colorado Alpines landscaping in Edwards, is part of a small-scale forest monitoring project enlisting about a dozen volunteers to track data on eight plots in different areas of the clear-cut area. The goal is to document how the forest is regenerating and under what conditions, to complement the data the U.S. Forest Service already collects on cut and burnt areas of the forest.

Volunteers are collecting data every two weeks on soil moisture, soil and ambient temperature, soil pH, air temperature, rainfall and counting trees and vegetation according to species and size. By looking at a variety of plots in a similar site, the data should help reveal how the different factors influence forest regeneration.

“It’s similar to your own gardening, to identify how good the conditions are for growing,” project coordinator Howard Hallman said. Hallman heads up the Forest Health Task Force, which is the main organization behind the project. He also leads the Greenlands Reserve, which is the funding source. The area was cut once about four years ago, and another section was cut more recently.

The project is also a chance to accomplish the task force’s mission of getting the public involved. The future forests are coming back, and this is an opportunity to “get down on your hands and knees to see what’s growing in these areas that have been harvested,” said Brad Piehl, who organized the project with the Forest Health Task Force.

Piehl said having people involved helps get the message out that though cut and burnt areas may not look good, there’s a new forest coming up.

“We’ve been through this mountain pine beetle epidemic. We want to see what’s happening. We want to document how the forest is coming back in a way that informs the citizens on whether it makes sense to clear cut more areas – or should we be doing something else,” Piehl said. “When you look at that spot, it doesn’t look like much is happening there, but there’s a whole bunch of lodgepole coming back in most spots.”

Piehl has his own plot, but he’s also getting his daughter Tessa involved. She learned about it and decided to be involved.

“She’s always been really interested in the natural environment and what’s going on in the forests,” Piehl said, explaining that she and a friend will be collecting the data. He said though the project currently has eight plots mapped out, if other high school students or community members want to be involved, more can be added.

“For me, it’s fun,” Pierson said. “It’s a flexible schedule so I can do it at my leisure. I know there’s a lot of this information out there, but this is a way to fine-tune some of the monitoring for our local conditions. This is a landscape-wide continental issue we’re facing. The more we can do, the better.”

Breckenridge resident and state Senate candidate Emily Tracy is also volunteering to collect data with her husband, Del Bush. She estimates each visit will be 30 to 45 minutes every two weeks after their initial visit, which will involve flagging and taking inventory.

“This is something a little new for me,” she said. “It sounded like a good way to look at – literally – what’s happening on the ground.”

Hallman emphasized that this project expands the type of volunteer work available.

“It opens projects to folks who are a little older who can’t move as big of rocks on trail projects as well as younger folks, too,” he said, adding that it could be a model for other, similar efforts.

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