Forest Service presents modified plan for Breckenridge forest health
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – U.S. Forest Service officials presented the latest version of a plan to reduce fire risk and improve forest health on 5,600 acres of public land near Breckenridge.
The modified plan, presented Wednesday night to the public, calls for logging operations to remove dead and dying lodgepole pine trees affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Officials expect lodgepole mortality to reach 90 percent within the next several years.
The Forest Service (or contracted logging companies) would clear-cut lodgepole pines on about 4,700 acres, using ground-based machinery in flat areas and on-foot chainsaw crews on sloped terrain and areas with no road access. Lodgepoles are the most prevalent species in the area, but aspen, fir and spruce trees are common. Species other than lodgepole would be left standing under the plan, and so would young lodgepoles not large enough to attract beetles.
“Just because it’s a clear-cut doesn’t mean everything is cut down,” project manager Brett Crary said. “We leave spruce and fir and very young trees. We can protect aspen, which does very well in these kinds of treatments.”
Crews would conduct less extensive “salvage logging” in areas that don’t warrant clear-cut treatments.
When the Dillon Ranger District initially presented the Breckenridge Forest Health and Fuels Project in November, some homeowners near the project area expressed concern over visual and recreation impacts that could last for decades to come.
In response, the Forest Service made some modifications to the plan, including the incorporation of “adaptive management” in specified areas with lower lodgepole mortality, particularly around Peak 7.
According to the Forest Service, lodgepole mortality across the entire project area ranges from 30 percent in some spots to more than 80 percent in others. The new adaptive-management option would allow clear-cutting only after a given stand reaches 60 percent mortality. Previously, the Forest Service planned to clear-cut lodgepole stands – both healthy and infested trees – that had reached 40 percent mortality, reasoning that it would be only a matter of time before the beetles hit the healthy trees in a given stand.
The 60-percent threshold would delay cutting healthy, mature trees to allow for the unlikely event that a cold snap stops the beetles in their tracks before infesting an entire stand. Temperatures lower than minus-34 degrees, sustained longer than a week, are thought to be necessary to kill the pine beetles, which burrow under the tree bark.
“Without a cold snap, there’s not a whole lot of reason (the epidemic) would stop,” Crary said.
According to Crary, adaptive management may make certain areas of the project take longer to implement, but it shouldn’t increase the cost significantly; nor should it affect the fire-mitigation or forest-regeneration goals of the project.
The most time-sensitive aspect of the project is the removal of already-dead trees. Standing dead trees will eventually fall over, making removal difficult and increasing fire danger.
“Once those trees fall, it would be very difficult for us to go in and do any types of treatments,” Crary said.
Fire danger is high when dead trees still have their needles. Once the needles drop, the risk of fire declines. As the trees fall, however, the risk increases again.
The Forest Service will accept comments on the modified plan through Feb. 19. Members of the public may submit comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or email@example.com.
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