U.S. Forest Service chief addresses wildfire challenges

A wildfire burns near powerlines in Keystone Gulch in June 2011. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.

A wildfire burns near powerlines in Keystone Gulch in June 2011. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.

Global warming cited as key factor in increased firefighting costs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Addressing the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency faces serious firefighting challenges, including tight budgets and a changing climate that is resulting in larger and more frequent fires.

Tidwell’s statement:

“On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West,” Tidwell said. “The largest issue we now face is how to adapt our management to anticipate climate change impacts and to mitigate their potential effects.” Continue reading

Outdoors: Forest Service touts June 8 fee-free day

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Get out on and play on public lands this coming Saturday, June 8, because it’s fee-free day.

Public land agencies promote outdoor activities

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four times a year, the U.S. Forest Service “gives” you something that’s already yours — free access to public lands that you own.

The next fee-free day is coming up in just a week (June 8), when you won’t have to pay to park and hike in areas that were funded by taxpayers in the first place. The other days are Sept. 28 for National Public Lands Day and Nov. 9-11 for Veterans Day Weekend.

“The country’s forests and grasslands beckon people from coast to coast to come hike, bike, fish and camp this weekend,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “A tank of gas can give you memories with family and friends that will last a lifetime. It’s worth the trip.” Continue reading

Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion set to start within weeks

Forest Service says resort has submitted construction plans

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Work will soon begin on a long-planned ski terrain expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area unless opponents make a last-minute legal bid to stop the project.

See more Peak 6 stories here.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Forest Service rangers say they are in the process of reviewing the final plans for the planned Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area. The clear-cutting of new ski trails could begin in just a few weeks, according to the agency.

The resort has submitted detailed plans for tree-cutting, erosion control, stormwater runoff and other aspects of the project, according to Shelly Grail,  a winter sports program administrator for the Dillon Ranger District.

Grail said the resort could start clear-cutting the new ski trails as early as mid-June, depending on the weather. The Forest Service has certain requirements regarding snow cover for tree removal operations, so the rate of snowmelt will affect the exact start date of the project. The Forest Service also will do some nesting surveys before work starts, she added. Continue reading

Forest Service ‘red zone’ report highlights sucesses of fuel treatments, challenges of more exurban growth

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A U.S. Forest Service map shows the fire-return interval in different regions of the U.S.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As the U.S. population grows, so does exurban development in the fire-prone red zone, formally and awkwardly called the wildland-urban interface. Just in the last decade of the 20th century, the WUI grew by 18 percent, putting more lives, homes and infrastructure in harm’s way. According to a new U.S. Forest Service report, about 6 million homes were added in the red zone during that time.

Until local governments figure out a way to get a handle on those life-threatening development patterns, the Forest Service will have to cut more and more of the adjacent forests to try and mitigate the wildfire danger. In a recent report, the agency says its fuel reduction treatments have been highly effective in reducing the intensity of wildfire and also allowing for better wildfire control.

The report, which synthesized recent research, found that 90 percent of the fuel treatment projects were effective to some degree. The information is aimed at giving community planners better tools to show what works in the red zone. Continue reading

Colorado: Mt. Evans Road opens, fee-free this year

Access advocacy group plans May 25 event to mark the end of the $10 fee

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Exploring the Summit Lake area near the summit of Mt. Evans, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. Map courtesy CDOT.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There aren’t too many places in the world where you can drive up to the summit of a 14,000-foot peak, but one of them is right here in Colorado, where Mt. Evans road rises to the crest of the Rocky Mountains just a short way west of Denver.

And this summer, for the first time since 1997, visitors will be able to make the drive for free, thanks to the tireless work of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group that has been battling the U.S. Forest Service over what it says are illegal fees for access to public lands. Continue reading

Federal judge says Forest Service must consider critical habitat designations in regional forest plan guidance for lynx

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Federal agencies rebuked for violating Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Decision will trigger new reviews of forest plans and projects in northern Rockies

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service has once again been called out for failing to live up to its legal obligations to protect endangered species, this time by a federal judge in Montana, who ruled last week that the agency violated the Endangered Species Act when it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a regional forest plan amendment.

Dana L. Christensen, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the State of Montana, ordered the Forest Service to re-initiate consultation, but did not block any specific projects on the affected forests, saying that plaintiffs couldn’t show any “irreparable harm.” Continue reading

Outdoors: Forest Service adds ‘new’ trails in Summit County

Some of the "new" trails on national forest lands in Summit County lead to hidden coves along the shore of Dillon Reservoir.

Some of the “new” trails on national forest lands in Summit County lead to hidden coves along the shore of Dillon Reservoir.

Travel management plan update results in some user-created trails becoming an official part of the trail network

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — If you’ve never heard of the Hippo Trail or the Bodhi Trail, don’t feel too bad. Both are newly named trail segments in Summit County that have just recently been formally added to the national forest trail system managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District.

Many of the user-created have been popular with locals for years, but now they’re officially on the map, said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the district.

“Many of these have never been maintained and have not been on District maps,” Waugh said, adding that the Forest Service is making an outreach effort to let hikers and cyclists know about the new trails.

As part of that effort, the Dillon District is preparing Recreation Opportunity Guides for these new trails. The one-page sheets  have a map on one side and information about the trails on the other. When they’re done, they’ll be posted online at this White River National Forest website. Some of the guides are already posted at www.dillonrangerdistrict.com. The guides include directions to the trailhead, mileage, range in elevation, difficulty, and trail highlights. They’re also avaiable at the USFS visitor center in Silverthorne. Continue reading

Wildfires: Forest Service moves on upgrading air tankers

Contract awards should enable some aircraft to come online this year

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A MAFFS-equipped Air National Guard C-130 Hercules drops fire retardant on wildfires in southern California,

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With its old-school propeller airtanker fleet dwindling, the U.S. Forest Service announced this week that it’s taking the next step to upgrade aerial firefighting capabilities by bringing bigger and faster next generation planes online.

Specifically, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the agency issued a notice of intent to award contracts to five companies to provide a total of seven new airtankers for wildfire suppression. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service finalizes plan to protect bats

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White-nose syndrome is spreading outward from the Northeast. Graphic courtesy whitenosesyndrome.org.

White River National Forest keeps a few caves closed permanently, requires cave registration and decontamination

*Click here for more Summit Voice coverage of white-nose syndrome

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The White River National Forest is well-known for its many ski areas and stunning high-elevation wilderness areas, but the forest is also a Rocky Mountain stronghold for bats. And with a deadly disease poised to move into the region, resource managers are taking steps to try and protect the flying mammals with a new cave access policy.

Based on a regional study completed a few weeks ago, WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has decided to keep several caves with biologically significant populations closed all year, and other caves may be closed seasonally. Year-round closures are to be enacted on ranger districts if white-nose syndrome is documented within 250 miles. The regional policy and supporting documents are online at this Forest Service website. Continue reading

California air pollution creeps into remote Sierra monument

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Air pollution is a growing concern at Devils Postpile National Monument, near Mammoth Lakes, California. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Wildfires, industrial sources contribute to ozone problems in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Devils Postpile National Monument in the eastern Sierra Nevada is about as far as you can get from California’s industrial urban centers, yet air quality at the site has suffered in recent years as pollution blows in from other parts of the state, according to a new U.S. Forest Service-led study.

The monument, near the resort town of Mammoth Lakes, features one of the best examples of columnar basalt formations and is also a gateway to High Sierra wilderness areas bordering on Yosemite National Park.

Ozone precursors (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) from wildland fires, as well as ozone from the Bay Area and Central Valley resulted in exceedances of federal air quality standards, as well as state air quality standards during the 2007-2008 study period, at levels that pose a risk to sensitive individuals and indicate a need for long-term ozone monitoring. Continue reading

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