Summit County: Forest Service planning big post-beetle reforestation push at local campgrounds this summer

Post-beetle kill in Summit County, Colorado.

3,000 trees arrive, ready to be planted

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After clearing thousands of beetle-killed trees from Summit County campgrounds and trails the past few years, the U.S. Forest Service is going into restoration mode. While there’s still more hazard tree removal to be done, rangers say they are ready to plant about 3,000 trees, including lodgepole, ponderosa and even some spruce trees.

The trees were just delivered on a couple of flatbed trucks, according to Sarah Pearson, a silviculturalist with the White River River National Forest. An inmate forestry crew will start planting the trees May 2 around the Peak One campground, as well as Prospector Point and Lowry campgrounds, Pearson said.

Some of the trees are still small seedling size, but about 850 have been growing long enough to reach three feet in height. Pearson said the seeds came from trees in the local area and were nurtured at the Forest Service nursery in Nebraska.

Using the local seeds help ensure that the seedlings are genetically predisposed to surviving in Summit County’s particular environment. While lodgepoles are a ubiquitous species across the West, Pearson said there is a lot of localized genetic variation that helps trees adjust to local microclimates.

How well they’ll survive the transplant process in what could be a dry year remains to be seen, Pearson said, adding that a landscape architect will help plan the planting to perhaps find favored microclimates where the seedlings may thrive. Other than that, summer monsoon moisture could be the key to ensuring survival of the trees.

Last year, the Dillon Ranger District replanted about 80 acres with lodgepole seedlings as part of an ongoing effort to help some local areas recover from the waning beetle-kill epidemic.

The Forest Service will focus its replanting efforts in high-value recreational areas like campgrounds for now, but will closely monitor forest regeneration in other areas were beetle-killed trees were removed.

Pearson said the focus is on conifers rather than aspens or cottonwoods because the Forest Service hasn’t had much luck in growing the deciduous species in areas where they don’t occur naturally.

“People plant them in their backyards, but they require a lot of babying to get them going,” she said. And while they grow quickly, aspens and cottonwoods aren’t as desirable at maturity.

Forest plan standards specify a certain density of regrowth. If logged areas grow back at less than that rate, the agency could start to look at more widespread reforestation efforts.

In some areas that were logged last last summer, some of the young trees that remained after the clearcutting died during the winter, perhaps simply from drying out in the cold, dry winter, with little snowpack to insulate the ground, and strong winds that raked the area repeatedly.

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One Response

  1. Talk about locking the barn door after the horse has left! If the Forest Service had been properly managing its land for the past 30 years the now dead trees would have been harvested long before they died and young healthy forests would now cover the hills of Colorado. Check out this web-page to find out what went wrong – and is still going wrong.

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