| Barbara Lawlor • Peak to Peak |
Because of equipment delays, the United States Forest Serivice West Magnolia Mitigation project has fallen behind in its projected timeline and now says that the campground and trails will not be open until next spring. Using the right equipment is necessary to mitigate the impact on the land and the Forest Service feller bunchers, the big tree cutters and gatherers, were off fighting wildfires in the beginning of the summer, said Elsha Kirby of the Forest Service Public Affairs.
The project is going ahead full steam and many Nederland and Gilpin County residents have noticed the patch that is being cut on the hillside across from the Sundance Restaurant and Lodge. Last weekend, visitors filled the deck, known as the best view in town, and watched while hungry big equipment cut bunches of Lodgepole pine trees in one pass. The patch reaches from the ridge of West Magnolia down into a dense gulch below Highway 119, by the Sundance Café and Lodge.
Diners could hear the growl of the saws, the crack of the falling trees and the clanging of the skidders as the trees were toppled and gathered.
Why are they taking the big, healthy looking trees? What does the clear cut patch protect? Why leave dead standing trees?
Calls poured into the Boulder office of the Forest Service District Ranger Station as a very visible piece of the mitigation plan was revealed to anyone driving south of Nederland. People were shocked at the bare patch of land.
Kirby said the change in the landscape will shock many people because it is so different than what that area has been. She said that particular patch of the polygon was described in the analysis as being heavily infested by the mountain pine beetle.
“The only way to treat the infested Lodgepole pine trees is to remove the majority of trees. These pines sprout in bunches and grow up together. If one becomes host to the beetle, they all will. If we just thin the trees, they will be prone to blow down,” said Silvaculturist Cody Hutchinson. The patch cut will increase the diversity of the stand and allow for other tree species. This is the long-term solution to the threat of beetle invasion and wildfire.
Hutchinson said that the specialized equipment that is used is light on the land; there is low impact to the soil unlike the conventional equipment. The feller buncher has a hot saw on the head that rotates very quickly and can throw pieces of wood up to 100 feet at high speeds. This increases the safety risks to people in the area and could cause serious injury at close range. Using tracks instead of tires, the machine minimizes ground disturbance.
Hutchinson said the piles that are formed by the mitigation represent about 10 percent of everything that is cut and removed. The piles are strategically placed for removal with the slightest amount of damage to the land.
Kirby said: “We are excited by the minimal impact and the survival of so many aspen trees. We know that it is a large, visual change and people panic when they see it, but when they come back in spring, they will see new vegetation and aspen regeneration. Being secret is not our intention, and we and the contractors want to be out of there as soon as possible.”
After discussions with local fire departments, Kirby said, that the mitigation work supports the goals of the mountain Community Wildfire Protection Program. The USFS is taking an aggressive stand to make the forest safe and viable.
“The mitigation also complements what neighborhood organizations are doing to mitigate their property of fire hazards. We can do this together, but we need the support of the community to continue and to address the fuel reduction.”
People have noticed bunches of dead standing pines midst the patch cuts and wondered why they are left when living trees are removed.
Hutchinson said that the dead trees are needed for animal habitats. One snag for every 25 trees is left for the displaced critters to use. The dead trees are left in places that are not near roads or trails.
Kirby said her door is open to anyone with questions about the mitigation project. Her number is 303-541-2532.