In the absence of fire, intensive mechanical treatments needed to keep ponderosa pine forests healthy

Before: Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall.

Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall in this unlogged patch of beetle-killed pines.

Shrub removal also key to moderating fire behavior

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Forest Service scientists say they’ve quantified the relationship between the density of ponderosa pine stands and disease.

The study shows that — no surprise — increased density, mainly due to the agency’s long-term fire suppression policies, makes the trees more susceptible to bark beetles and diseases. Competition for soil moisture, nutrients, and sunlight  in dense stands weakens trees and therefore also contributes to fuel buildup. Continue reading

Summit County eyes winter road closures

New rules would mesh with management of national forest lands

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Summit County officials are considering a request to close parts of several local roads, including Baldy Mountain Road, to winter motorized recreational traffic. Maps of the other roads are online at the Summit County planning department website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Summit County officials will take input on a request to ban winter motorized recreation on three county roads:

  • Gold Run Gulch Road/CR 300 (from the Gold Run Trailhead on the north to the intersection with CR 456 on the south)
  • Baldy Road/CR 520 (from the Baldy Trailhead at Emmet Lode/CR 536 to the road’s terminus on Baldy Mountain)
  • Boreas Pass Road/CR 10 (from the Boreas Pass Trailhead to Boreas Pass)

An open house on the request is set for Nov. 19, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the BOCC Hearing Room at the County Courthouse in Breckenridge. More detailed project information and maps will be available at the open house and can also be found on the Special Projects section of the Summit County Community Development website at: http://www.co.summit.co.us/index.aspx?NID=837. Continue reading

Forests: Does salvage logging in beetle-killed forests make economic sense for the Forest Service?

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Dead lodgepoles have became a common sight in Colorado during the past few years, and a new study confirms that the Forest Service loses money on many salvage logging projects.

Study shows that strong timber markets make all the difference

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new Forest Service study confirms the conventional wisdom that, under current market conditions, salvage of beetle-killed timber in Colorado is not good for the agency’s bottom line.

The researchers evaluated potential potential revenues from harvesting standing timber killed by mountain pine beetle across the western United States. Positive net revenues are possible in regions with strong timber markets, including along the West Coast and in the northern Rockies.

The central Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming — which have the largest volume of standing dead timber — would not generate positive net revenues by salvaging beetle-killed timber, the study concluded. In Colorado, there have been efforts to create more markets for beetle-killed wood, but there doesn’t yet seem to be a critical mass of demand.

The study did not examine other factors that might influence land management decisions, such as fire risk reduction, improvement in stand conditions, or jobs. Continue reading

Public lands: Forest Service eyes new rules for summer activities at ski resorts

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The U.S. Forest Service is taking comments on new rules governing various uses on public lands under permit to the ski industry.

Agency may authorize fees for uphill skiing, snowshoe travel at resorts on national forests

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Can you harmonize with the natural environment while speeding down a mountain zip line?

It may depend on exactly how fast you’re going, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which is rolling out a new set of rules to govern the permitting of summer recreational installations at ski areas operating on national forest lands.

In one of the biggest changes that would affect other private businesses near resorts, the agency would back away from a long-standing policy that precluded authorization for facilities that could be provided on nearby non-Forest Service lands. The proposed rules are posted at  http://www.fs.fed.us/specialuses. Continue reading

Colorado: Summit County forests make big comeback after pine beetle epidemic

Forest Service replanting key areas, monitoring regeneration

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Just a few years after logging projects, forests are making a comeback in areas around Pine Cove campground, near Frisco, Colorado.

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A temporary logging road along the Frisco Peninsula.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With mountain pine beetle populations at their lowest level in 30 years, it’s safe to say that the forest health crisis actually turned out to be a much-needed catharsis for Summit County’s overgrown lodgepole pine forests.

U.S. Forest Service researchers are finding that most of the area hit by the bugs are showing encouraging signs of regrowth. Logged areas are primarily seeing dense lodgepole regeneration, along with some aspens. Non-logged areas are also growing back, and some early data suggests that subalpine fir may replace lodepole pines as the dominant species.

Along with continued logging operations in red zone areas, the U.S. Forest Service has been busy replanting some key areas, notably around campgrounds. Altogether, the agency has planted about a quarter of a million seedlings across the White River National Forest in the last three to four years, according to silviculturist Jan Burke, who has tracked the arc of the beetle infestation. Just this past summer, the Forest Service, with help from volunteer partners, planted about 90,000 trees. Continue reading

Study: Forest clearings crucial for some birds

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Birds need structurally diverse forests. bberwyn photo.

Fire suppression, other forest practices may be contributing to decline of forest-interior species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Efforts to protect forest-interior birds in the Northeast may be partly misguided, a new U.S. Forest Service study suggests.

Currently, most of those conservation efforts focus on preserving mature forests where birds breed, but the new research shows younger forest habitat may be vital in the weeks leading up to migration.

“Humans have really changed the nature of mature forests in the Northeast,” said Scott Stoleson, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “Natural processes that once created open spaces even within mature forests, such as fire, are largely controlled, diminishing the availability of quality habitat.” Continue reading

Colorado: Conservation groups challenge Forest Service over motorized routes on the Pike and San Isabel NF

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Motorized use on the Pike and San Isabel National Forest is at issue in a lawsuit in federal court.

Lawsuit alleges agency didn’t analyze the impact of new motorized routes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation groups say the Pike and San Isabel National Forest erred in sanctioning hundreds of miles of motorized routes in a contentious 2009 plan that highlighted all the ongoing user conflicts on public lands.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the groups claim the Forest Service failed to consider the potential harm to forest resources that could result from motor vehicle use on some routes, many of them created illegally over the course of decades of inadequate off-road vehicle management and enforcement on the forests.

“The Forest Service is rightly required to ‘look before they leap,’” said Melanie Kay of Earthjustice, attorney for the groups. “We’re not asking the Forest Service to ban motor vehicle use on the forests or to deny anyone reasonable access or recreational opportunities. Rather, we’re protecting the interests of forest visitors and the forest itself by ensuring that the agency makes well-informed decisions and does so in accordance with laws and regulations that have been on the books for decades.” Continue reading

Op-ed: Teamwork needed to protect forests, watersheds

Active forest management needed to protect water supplies

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A beetle-kill forest clear cut near Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

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Colorado State Forester Mike Lester.

By Mike Lester

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to reduce the risk and impacts of catastrophic Western wildfires was signed last week in Fort Collins. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was good news for anyone who cares about the health of our forests, pays a water bill or worries about wildfires.

The Colorado State Forest Service is proud to be part of a similar local partnership that is being viewed as the first of six WWEP pilot programs in the West to improve forest and watershed health, and help mitigate wildfire risk. The Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado and Big Thompson rivers in Northern Colorado. Partners include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

The most anti-environmental budget ever?

GOP aims to slash spending for public lands, environmental programs

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Rhetorical GOP attacks on public lands and the environment culminated this week in a proposed budget that would slash funding for public lands management and environmental programs.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Given the vapid rhetoric from House GOP leaders the last few years, a full frontal assault on public lands was inevitable. It came this week, in the form of proposed massive budget cuts for public lands and environmental programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Overall, the interior funding bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee this week cuts $5.5 billion — 19 percent — from Fiscal Year 2013 levels, covering the Department of the Interior, the EPA, the Forest Service, and various independent and related agencies. Continue reading

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