Forest Service releases draft study for A-Basin expansion

Public comment sought on draft EIS

a-basin

Staff Report

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is one step closer to gaining final approval for a 492-acre expansion that would include a new lift in the Beavers area. The ski area plan also calls for replacing Pallavicini chairlift, removing the Norway chairlift and adding a surface lift to ferry skiers and snowboarders to the popular backside Montezuma Bowl terrain.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental study for the planned projects. The agency will take public comments on the draft EIS through March 21. More information is online at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=41664. A public meeting on the draft Eis will be held at The Keystone Center (1628 St John Rd., Dillon, CO 80435) on March 2, 2016 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

In a cover letter released with the draft study, White River National Forest Supervisor said he is currently evaluating the recreational benefits of these projects against the identified resource impacts these project may create. Continue reading

Federal judge orders Forest Service to turn over more documents related to controversial Wolf Creek development

saf

Court battles have slowed a proposed development project near Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

Agency may be lagging in turning over documents requested under Freedom of Information Act

By Bob Berwyn

The U.S. Forest Service must try to dig up more documents related to the controversial Wolf Creek Village development proposal, a federal judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez ordered the agency to once again scour its files for emails, memos and other records that have been requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Community activists and public lands watchdog groups want to examine the paper trail because they believe that environmental studies for the development were tainted by political influence. Continue reading

Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

sdgf

Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading

Forest Services tries to cover its tracks on Wolf Creek

saf

A controversial plan to develop private real estate near Wolf Creek Ski Area is on hold for now.

Paper trail shows agency hid and likely destroyed records related to controversial development proposal in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains

Staff Report

Environmental and community activists opposed to a massive real estate development in southern Colorado say they have new evidence that the U.S. Forest Service tried to cover up how political influence tainted several steps of the approval process for the project.

A review of more than 60,000 pages documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent court order shows that the Forest Service deliberately concealed and destroyed records related to the Village at Wolf Creek development project. Continue reading

Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015

Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression

sdf

Wildfire activity surged in 2015. Graph courtesy NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

For the first time in the era of modern record-keeping, wildfires burned across more than 10 million acres in 2015, mainly due to a series of large fires in Alaska.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were more than 50 fires that exceeded 50,000 acres, and 20 fires exceeded more than 100,000 acres. The fires destroyed more than 4,500 homes and other structures and killed 13 wildland firefighters.

The big wildfire season came after two-year lull, when the total wildfire footprint stayed below 5 million acres. For the last years, the average now stands at about 6.6 million acres.

The uptick in fires is no surprise to experts, who have been warning that global warming will result in bigger burns. Alaska, for example, reported its second-warmest year on record in 2015. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased.

In 2013, scientists linked a spate of massive Siberian wildfires with a “stuck” weather pattern associated with global warming. Overall, scientists say, those links are becoming more clear. It’s also clear that forests will have a more difficult time rebounding from fires as temperatures warm. Continue reading

Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015

Colorado aspens

Restoration work needed across 65 million acres of national forest lands.

With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs

Staff Report

U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.

Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading

Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?

New study projects widespread forest mortality by 2100

sdfg

Vast swaths of spruce trees have died in southern Colorado during the past few years. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees.

Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Unless deep greenhouse gas cuts happen soon, last month’s historic climate agreement may be too little, too late for some forests in the American Southwest, where scientists are projecting a widespread die-off of needleleaf evergreens — including pine, spruce, piñon and juniper trees — by 2100.

After combining data from field observations with climate model projections, the research team concluded that  72 percent of the region’s needleleaf evergreen forests will die by 2050, with nearly 100 percent mortality by 2100.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” said Sara Rauscher, assistant professor of geography in University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

It’s pretty clear that the die-off is already under way. Even drought-resistant species like piñon pines were hit hard by a drought in the early 2000s. A massive bark beetle infestation wiped out millions of acres of lodgepole pines in the southern Rockies, and spruce beetles have taken a big toll on once-lush spruce forests in southern Colorado. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,016 other followers