An Earthly Idea: With clear-cutting, everyone loses — for a long time |

An Earthly Idea: With clear-cutting, everyone loses — for a long time

The clear-cutting of Gold Hill was a 100-year mistake.

The war zone that it resembles will be a black eye on the Forest Service and Summit County for the foreseeable future as the designated Colorado Trail that we present to the world.

By persevering with a hastily adopted, ill-advised plan, bureaucrats and politicians are robbing everyone who hikes, mountain bikes, cross-country skis, snowshoes, appreciates natural beauty or benefits from Summit County’s recreation- and beauty-based economy. It is not too late, however, for the Peaks and other trails and forests not yet “treated” under the infamous Ophir Clear-Cut Plan.

Let “Remember Gold Hill” be a rallying cry for protecting Summit County’s remaining forests and trails. Nature can manage itself far better than bureaucrats who stick to a plan in the face of changed conditions, logic and public outrage.

We should designate Gold Hill as a “National Sacrifice Area.” Everyone who lives or recreates — or governs — in Summit County should have to traverse the trail at least once.

If the political-bureaucratic machine rolls on blindly, no one wins. Two to 3 miles from the nearest house, planned cuts of the Peaks Trail and other areas cannot be of any conceivable fire-fighting value. But everyone loses — for a very long time. It would take 60-100 years to grow mature trees again. On the other hand, any conceivable fire-fighting advantage would be short-lived. After a fire or clear-cut, lodgepole pine grow back in dense thickets the foresters call “dog hair.” Within 5 or 10 years, and for the next 30 or 40 after that, these dense thickets will provide a fuel load greater than any bare dead trees and a nearly impenetrable barrier to fire-fighters, as well as hikers.

We should designate Gold Hill as a “National Sacrifice Area.” Everyone who lives or recreates — or governs — in Summit County should have to traverse the trail at least once to better appreciate the joy of trails and beauty of forests that have thus far escaped “treatment.” And it’s not just a matter of, “Oh, the trees will grow back.” For most of us, our children and grandchildren will never be able to experience the beautiful place that Gold Hill was. Denying the marvelous Peaks Trail to ourselves and future generations as well would be absolutely inexcusable.

How could such misguided plans have been hatched in the first place? The months leading up to the November 2011 “approval” of the Ophir Clear-Cut Plan by a mind-boggling determination that clear-cutting 1,600 acres of world-class recreation area would have “no significant environmental impact” were admittedly scary. The beetles were arriving and there were catastrophic fires in the Front Range (totally different ecology). The sky never fell, though. The drought broke; far fewer trees died than anticipated; no big fires broke out while dead needles still on the trees did increase fire risk. And nature’s beautiful process of replacing dead trees with young ones is already well underway. Are we still stuck, though, with an exactly wrong plan to “do something”? No, we are not! We can avert 100 years of regret any time before the bulldozers roll. Even if the Forest Service will not, our elected officials have the power to realize and correct mistakes. Tell them to “draw the line in the woods” now, at Gold Hill.

This is the initial offering of a column intended to cover a broad range of Summit County environmental issues. I welcome your suggestions for other topics.

But it is outrage at the travesty of needlessly destroying our magnificent forest heritage that inspired me to take up the pen, so don’t be surprised if future columns also relate to that most pressing issue.

Howard Brown lives near Silverthorne. While he has extensive environmental policy analysis experience at the federal, state and local levels, he attributes his expertise to observing and asking questions while enjoying Summit County’s beauty.

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