Forest health targeted in ‘heart’ of county | SummitDaily.com
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Forest health targeted in ‘heart’ of county

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Timber crews should be able to begin clearing dead trees from some of the National Forest lands hardest-hit by the mountain pine beetle infestation this summer, following release of the environmental study for the Dillon Reservoir forest health project.

The project, subject to a 30-day objection period, is aimed at reducing wildfire threats and improving forest health in areas like Wildernest and Keystone Ranch, as well as speeding up regeneration of the forest in beetle-killed stands, in the heart of Summit County, said Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton.

Overall the project encompasses 3,300 acres. According to a Forest Service press release, the work would be spread out over the next 10 years. Newton said there is still some question as to whether the agency will come up with the required money in the federal budget. For now, the agency is still operating under a continuing resolution, nearly halfway through the fiscal year.

“These projects will not pay for themselves,” Newton said. “They depend on an input of federal dollars. That money hasn’t reached us yet in terms of our ability to write checks,” Newton said.

At the end of the day, the agency will have to pay a direct subsidy to the contractors removing the dead trees. Some of the wood may be used by a couple of start-up operations in Kremmling hoping to convert the wood into pellet fuel for wood stoves, Newton said. Some of the bigger timber in the designated treatment areas around Mesa Cortina could be suitable for milling, he added.

The Dillon Reservoir project is the first in Summit County to be planned and executed under the guidelines of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which allows for streamlined review by limiting the number of alternatives to be considered. In many cases, the Forest Service prepares a range of alternatives for various projects. But in this case, there is simply an “action” and a “no-action” alternative. And rather than subjecting approval to a potentially time-consuming appeal process, the decision is followed by a 30-day objection period, enabling stakeholders in the planning process to air any concerns.

The process is front-loaded through collaboration with key players ” local towns, homeowners groups and county planners. Overall, the plan is tiered to the Community Wildfire Protection plan, focusing on some of the key areas identified by that document, Newton said.

Along with the Wildernest buffer, other areas targeted for clear-cutting include the hillsides above and below I-70 around the scenic overlook between Frisco and Silverthorne, where most of the mature trees are dead, as well as the Frisco Peninsula. The pine beetle infestation shows no signs of slowing, and forest experts expect that up to 90 percent of the mature trees will succumb to the bugs.

In some of those areas, especially between I-70 and the Dillon Dam Road, there is already a significant understory of young lodgepoles, Newton said. In other parts of the project area, the clear cutting could also stimulate fast-growing aspen clones, adding to forest diversity.

Also targeted for treatment are long, narrow strips in the vicinity of Keystone Resort and Keystone Ranch. The goal is to create more defensible space and room for firefighters to work safely in the event of a blaze.

The projects will require construction of seven miles of temporary roads and use 10 miles of existing routes, along with four miles of road restoration.

The environmental assessment should be available this week in hard copy at the Dillon Ranger District on Blue River Parkway (Highway 9) in Silverthorne. Along with related documents and maps, it will be online at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects.


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