Forest Service starts cutting Summit trees |

Forest Service starts cutting Summit trees

This is one of the photos presented by Mary Ellen Gilliland of clear cutting along the Gold Hill Trail at the Forest Health Task Force meeting Thursday, May 29, 2014. This section of the trail has been rerouted until a Forest Service contractor finishes cleaning it up in mid to late July.
Courtesy Mary Ellen Gilliland |

Forest Service officials announced Friday that a section of the Gold Hill Trail has been rerouted so a contractor can finish cleaning up debris from clear-cutting this winter.

About 1 mile west of the trailhead, hikers and other trail users will encounter the detour, which follows a road for about 1.8 miles.

Both the east and west ends of the detour are posted and signed, and the Forest Service wants people to stay off the closed trail section until the contractor finishes the work sometime in July.

The Gold Hill Trail was the focus at the last meeting of the Forest Health Task Force, part of a local nonprofit land trust organization called The Greenlands Reserve, on a rainy night Thursday, May 29.

“Right now it’s confrontational, and it’s not positive.”
Brad Piehl
a member of the Forest Health Task Force, on the current dynamic between Summit residents
and the Forest Service

About 80 people attended the meeting at the SOS Outreach Center in Frisco, site of the old Frisco fire station, including six Forest Service employees and a few representatives of local fire departments.

Longtime Summit County locals John Taylor and Mary Ellen Gilliland presented photos of the Gold Hill Trail taken after clear-cuts as part of the Dillon Ranger District’s project around Ophir Mountain.

Contractors left “huge piles of chip on the trail,” Gilliland said. She showed photos of tree stumps taken that week and called them sharp, dangerous and not pretty for locals and tourists who want to enjoy the outdoors.

White River National Forest timber management assistant Cary Green said everything in the photos Gilliland showed was part of uncompleted projects, where clear-cuts were done with 4 feet of snow on the ground.

Those areas will be cleaned up, he said. He and other Forest Service officials emphasized that they consider more than the way the land looks in the short term.

Frisco resident Laura Rossetter praised the foresters for their long-term focus and asked about clear-cuts that happened about 30 years ago. She said she was baffled as to how clear-cuts are healthy.

“Maybe right now that all looks good,” she said. “Why are we doing it again?”

Brett Crary, a silviculturalist for the White River National Forest, said that the belief that forests dominated by trees of the same age are unhealthy — or more susceptible to insects, disease and wildfire — is a big misconception.

He said if the clear-cuts 30 years ago had continued, the Dillon Ranger District would not the large beetle problem it has and it wouldn’t need to do as much clear-cutting.

The rest of the meeting included discussion of forest diversity, wildfire protection and the adaptive management plan for parts of the Ophir Mountain project.

Of about 1,500 acres designated for treatment in the project, foresters said 300 acres will be inventoried this summer. If the mortality rate of the trees is less than 40 percent, the agency won’t do clear-cuts but instead will do smaller cuts.

Task force founder Howard Hallman ended the meeting around 9:30 p.m as Silverthorne resident Howard Brown engaged Forest Service entomologist Tom Eager in a heated discussion about lodgepole pine monoculture.

About 30 people stayed, and the room buzzed as a handful of people listened and talked to each forester.

“Right now it’s confrontational, and it’s not positive,” said Brad Piehl, a task force member, forest hydrologist and environmental consultant.

The meeting was a good place for people to express their anger and frustrations and for the Forest Service to hear that, he said, and for residents to learn more about the longstanding legal processes that a bureaucracy like the Forest Service uses.

Jan Cutts, district ranger of the Dillon Ranger District, said, “I appreciate the passion that people bring to this.”

Silverthorne resident Howard Brown wrote the Summit Daily the next day and expressed his frustrations that the meeting was “turned over to the Forest Service” and seemed to be a missed opportunity for citizen input and discussion about clear-cutting compromises.

“Very little new or of any promise for addressing a situation that has county recreationists and natural beauty lovers up in arms” was presented, he wrote.

About a week later, Dillon Ranger District deputy district ranger and environmental coordinator Cynthia Keller said the main message foresters wanted people to know at the meeting was “pardon our mess.”

She compared the clear-cuts to construction sites or open heart surgery. It looks ugly and scary in the middle, she said. “People just have to be patient.”

Contractors are taking most of the timber from the Ophir Mountain project to the biomass power plant in Gypsum.

“We pay them to take it out because it has almost no value,” she said.

Some locals have expressed concerns about Forest Service work on the Peaks Trail, she said, which was completed in 2013. She said dead trees that could pose a hazard to hikers on the trail were cut, and in some places that meant 100 feet on either side of the trail.

“If they were all dead they were all cut,” she said. “It does honestly look terrible.”

Piles of slash were left along the trail because the area is to hard to reach, she said.

On May 30, the day after the task force meeting, a Forest Service contractor began cutting and hauling trees in the Iron Springs area northwest of Farmer’s Korner and near the Gifford Pinchot FDT 9155, Henry Recen FDT 9042 and Iron Springs FDT 9040 trails.

Then Tuesday, June 10, local Forest Service officials announced more fuel-reduction operations had started in three areas:

Muggins Gulch to Tiger Run Resorts. All work is north of Tiger Road and the Swan River and east of the Blue River.

Indiana Gulch. North of the intersection of the Indian Gulch Road and Goose Pasture Road.

Keystone area. North of U.S. 6 from the Landfill Road to Saint Johns and along the Aqueduct trail near Keystone Stables.

The contractor will cut trees and construct slash piles for later burning, according to the Dillon Ranger District.

These projects are efforts to manage damage caused by the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic and were analyzed under the Breckenridge Forest Health and Fuels environmental analysis of 2011 and the Dillon Reservoir Forest Health and Fuels environmental analysis of 2007.

Officials ask hikers and mechanized users on Forest Development Trails 952W.1, 351.1, 1029.1, 611W.1A, 1024.1 and 66W.2T to exercise caution when approaching active operations.

Besides those projects, Keller said, no other cutting is planned for Summit County this year.

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