Moonstone forest health project may get under way next month
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge town officials don’t want people to be surprised when they hear chainsaws and chippers working in the thick lodgepole pine forest below Moonstone Road and above Carter Park.
Work will begin next month on a project designed to diversify the plant species in the 20-acre area, which forestry experts say is old, unhealthy and ripe for wildfire.
A popular mountain biking trail cuts through the Breckenridge Open Space property.
Town planners decided to wait until after the busy Labor Day Weekend before starting work to lessen the visual impact for visitors.
They also plan to conduct a big public education plan to let people know what’s going on in the area and to assure them that the end product will be a diverse forest. Part of that will include newspaper articles, radio spots and posters at the site explaining the operations.
“I think people are scared because of all those Forest Service clearcuts to the west (on Peak 7),” said Open Space and Trails Planner Heide Andersen. “Some people have real issues with that.”
Almost 20 years ago, the Forest Service cleared wide swaths along the face of the Tenmile Range to alleviate fire danger. In the ensuing years, native flowers and trees have grown, helping with the general health and species diversification of the areas.
Work on the Moonstone parcel will include thinning out old, sick and dense stands of lodgepole pines, clearcutting small areas to allow the sun to reach the forest floor to promote other growth and reseeding with native flowers and grasses.
Because of safety issues, all trails in the area will be closed to hikers, bikers and others until sometime in the fall when work is expected to be complete.
The town has long been trying to figure out a way to improve the health of the stand of trees, some of which are reaching the end of their lifespans, others that are infected with the parasitic dwarf mistletoe and almost all of which present a wildfire threat.
The south end of the parcel features dense, mature, even-aged lodgepole pine trees, most of which have tall trunks with tufts of branches on the uppermost branches. They’re often called dog-hair pines. Most are past their prime and infested with dwarf mistletoe, according to Eric Petterson of Rocky Mountain Ecological Services of Redstone, who crafted the draft plan.
The tentative plan calls for clearing a total of 1.9 acres of trees in patches of .2 acres to .6 acres throughout the stand, specifically targeting mistletoe-infected trees. The cuts will have irregular boundaries to give them a more natural appearance.
Some trees to be cut are already marked with orange blazes.
Opening up the land will prompt new lodgepole pines to sprout, so Petterson recommends returning to thin saplings to increase stand vigor and allow for rapid diameter growth. The town should consider rethinning the area in 10 to 15 years, he said.
This treatment will allow trees of various sizes and ages to grow, making it a more diverse forest and resistant to pathogens. Additionally, it will break up the so-called “fuel continuity” in the forest and reduce the chance of fire spread.
The northern end of the property features an uneven-aged forest of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir and lodgepole pine. The forest floor has a variety of seedlings and saplings. Many of the lodgepole pine are 90 to 180 years old, Petterson wrote in his report, and are infected with mistletoe, suffering from root rot and dying from the top down.
Despite its shortcomings, Petterson said this is a stable plant community, and he merely recommends removing the older, poorly formed or infected lodgepole pine and firs afflicted with various diseases.
As part of the plan, wood chips generated by the project will be taken to the Climax Molybdenum Mine on Fremont Pass, where they are mixed with sewage sludge and composted. The compost is used to put topsoil on the barren tailings ponds.
Workers will leave some trees behind for small animals to use as habitat, and remove the duff – needles, branches and other debris – on the forest floor to encourage other plant growth.
The plan calls for workers to use existing road grades in the area to minimize damage and drag logs to a road to be either chipped or taken to lumber mills. Additionally, they plan to extensively reseed the area with native grasses to increase diversity and prevent the spread of noxious weeds.
People with concerns or questions are encouraged to call Andersen at (970) 547-3100 or Danica Rice at (970) 547-3155.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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