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Joint fuels mitigation project to begin outside Breckenridge

A joint fuels mitigation project is set to begin on open spaces east of Breckenridge in mid-September.
Photo from Colorado State Forest Service

BRECKENRIDGE — Local, state and federal agencies are coming together to start work on a new fuels reduction project near Breckenridge later this month, meant to help reduce the risk of wildfires in the area and improve forest health.

The project will take place on the Wellington side of the Golden Horseshoe Trail System on the White River National Forest, east of Breckenridge, and will include areas of Summit County and Breckenridge open spaces.

The project comes via a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, Summit County Open Space & Trails and the Town of Breckenridge Open Space & Trails. The work includes fuels mitigation on a total of 94 acres, including 45 acres of Summit County and Breckenridge open space, and 49 acres of national forest.

“We’ve been trying to get joint efforts going in the Golden Horseshoe for years,” said Brian Lorch, director of Summit County Open Space & Trails. “Now that we have state permits working for the county, as well as county funding going towards some forest service efforts, we’re now able to get some of these inter-jurisdictional and cross-boundary projects going so that we don’t end up with straight lines in the woods where it doesn’t make sense.”

From Colorado State Forest Service

Crews will be on site in the area from the week of Sept. 14 through the end of October, and are expected to return in spring 2021. Officials expected the project to be completed by October 2021, and prescribed burns on cut fuels will take place next winter.

The goal is to reduce the risk and impacts of wildfires adjacent to Summit County communities in the wildland-urban interface, along with creating fuel breaks to serve as defensible space near residential areas. The project is also meant to foster healthier long-term forest conditions by promoting the regeneration of lodgepole pine and the expansion of aspen trees.

The area was chosen because it is currently overly dense, and contains many trees that have died from old age and pine beetle infestation. Crews will be hand cutting and piling trees according to approved science-based prescriptions.

Lodgepole Pines tend to grow in stands of trees the same age, and rely on large-scale disturbances like wildfires to regenerate new, healthy landscapes, according to the forest service. Cutting down segments of trees is meant to mimic a large, stand-replacing disturbance, and allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to provide the necessary heat for lodgepole pine cones to release their seeds. Officials anticipate the open conditions should also provide the sunlight needed for other pine and aspen seedlings to thrive.

“Because we have suppressed fires for so long we have a lot of 100-year-old forests that have very little diversity, and aren’t very healthy from an ecological perspective,” Lorch said. “Since we are not comfortable with the idea of fire in these places that are close to people, the best way to address it is to reset things with a cut like this, and allow young vegetation to come back and really have a more diverse forest.”

The project is part of the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service Good Neighbor Authority Program, and was funded through Summit County’s Strong Future Fund, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and Denver Water’s Forests to Faucets II program.

Of note, officials said that residents in the area should expect some minor disturbances during the work, and visitors to the trail system may experience periodic, short closures when the work is within close proximity to the road.

“The main reason we’re trying to get the word out on this one is there are a lot of people that live in that lower French Gulch area,” Lorch said. “It’s going to be done by cutting and leaving in place, so there’s not going to be a lot of logging trucks pulling trees out, or going through the Wellington Neighborhood. But we want to get the word out that residents may hear chainsaws and they may see some trees coming up on that hill above the neighborhood.”

More information on the project can be found at SummitCountyCo.gov/1316/wellington-forestry-project.


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