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

Forest Service replanting key areas, monitoring regeneration

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

Overall the regrowth on national forest lands in Summit County is in line with expectations, Burke said in a recent email interview with Summit Voice.

“We have policy mandating minimum stocking standards within 5 years of harvest. We are seeing good natural regeneration … and in order to provide greater species diversity in the future, we have been planting a mix of ponderosa and lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and Douglas fir where appropriate.

Most of the planting in Summit County has been around local campgrounds, which were heavily logged during the height of the beetle infestation. Some other logged areas, including the Straight Creek drainage, near Dillon, have already met minimum stocking standards, Burke said.

The regeneration is tracked by required post-harvest surveys, one, three and five years after logging projects.

“Monitoring will continue to capture regeneration response to the losses of the mountain pine beetle infestation … and to keep abreast of any new revegetation trends that might be correlated to climate change,” she said.

In some areas, aspens are making a big comeback in the absence of the shady lodgepole over-story. Burke said there’s significant aspen growth near the hospital in Frisco, around the Heaton Bay campground and between Wildernest and I-70.

Forest diversity was also encouraged during logging operations.

“We really tried to protect young, understory trees during harvest operations to promote species diversity. Where other [mature] tree species could be protected from windthrow, they were left during harvest operations,” she said.

Recent forest health treatments include about 1,000 acres around Frisco and Breckenridge, work being done as part of an ongoing partnership between the Forest Service and Denver Water to protect key watersheds.

“Additional beetle mitigation around Deep Creek, north of Silverthorne, has also been awarded. Much of that wood fiber will find itself trucked to the new Gypsum bioenergy plant or various [new] sawmills that have opened in Colorado over the last year,” she said.


One thought on “Colorado: Summit County forests make big comeback after pine beetle epidemic

  1. Too bad the Forest Service waited till the trees were dead to harvest them. Planned management and timber harvests over the past 30+ years could have prevented the insect attacks, the dead trees, and the resultant fires. Public land non-management will continue unless Congress takes action. For a closer look at this problem, check out this webpage, For a solution, follow the link .

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