Volunteers are needed this summer to help protect and maintain Summit County’s forests | SummitDaily.com

Volunteers are needed this summer to help protect and maintain Summit County’s forests

Mountain Pine Beetle infested forests Friday, July 14, near Frisco.

As spring arrives and the great thaw begins, Summit's Forest Health Task Force is calling for residents to come out of their burrows and volunteer for forestry projects this summer.

Much of the work to maintain and nurture Summit's forests falls on volunteers with passion and commitment. For that reason, volunteerism was the main topic of discussion at the task force's monthly meeting on Wednesday. Most of the volunteer opportunities are facilitated through the nonprofit Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. Doozie Martin, FDRD programs manager, briefly described various opportunities that appeal to different interests and abilities.

One of the critical tasks favoring keen observation and a love of the outdoors is forest health monitoring. Volunteers are given training on how to record observations about tree species, health, height and other measurements, as well as how to core trees to gauge tree age. Teams of three to five volunteers then coordinate to visit assigned plots and record observations on forms to keep the data collection uniform.

Bill van Doorninck, who has volunteered as a forest health monitor for the past three years, said he loves the work.

"It's satisfying to work in small groups with other people who share my love of the forest and want to help protect it," Doorninck said. "I also love the outdoors, and this is a perfect opportunity to combine that with a good cause."

Volunteer's observations are collected and then compiled into a database, which can provide critical data for forest groups and agencies.

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Shelby Limberis, forester for the U.S. Forest Service, said data collected from seasons past has already been put to good use.

"We used volunteer data from two years ago in the Lower Snake Wildland-Urban Interface project to show how many dead trees were in an area and made it suitable for logging," Limberis said. "Data collected last year from younger forests is going to feed into future projects to help prioritize areas for thinning in the future."

Another volunteer job available is "weed-busting" by spotting and helping eliminate noxious weeds and invasive species. John Taylor is heavily involved in volunteering to rid the county of these alien invaders. Taylor is retired and has a background in finance, but his passion for forest biology started when he was in college.

"I've always enjoyed the work," Taylor said, adding that he has written and had nine grants approved from the National Forest Foundation to help rid the county of weeds.

"Weeds and these invasive species can take over an environment and eliminate native species and flowers," he said. "If preventative maintenance isn't done, it can get to the point that it is cost-prohibitive to treat an area and you permanently lose that area's natural flora."

Other ways volunteers can help include tree planting and seed/cone collection, education and outreach, as well as photography to document forest conditions.

Howard Hallman, executive director of the task force, said volunteers like Van Doorninck and Taylor are critical to preserving the local ecosystem and improve the recreational experience in the region. He added that many have shown enthusiasm to volunteer, but he wants to make sure that enthusiasm leads to tangible results.

"The question now is, how do we translate that volunteer energy into meaningful actions?" Hallman said.

Hallman added that volunteering to help take care of the forests offer volunteers an opportunity to build a legacy in the forests and offer a lasting contribution to the county.

"Their work really has a purpose," Hallman said. "Some day they can take their kids to those plots and show them a tree they planted, or an area they helped improve."

Volunteers are encouraged to sign up by visiting the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District website at FDRD.org/volunteer/ or call 970-262-449.

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