West Magnolia gathering concerned, peaceful

Barbara Lawlor
h2>Radical Joy for Hard Times group

Ruth McMillan of Nederland and Christi Strickland of Longmont waited for people to show up at the end ofdevastation of mitigation logging West Magnolia Road at noon on Saturday, June 8. As the grey skies thickened with moisture above the moonscape setting, locals gathered at the trailhead.
McMillan and Strickland have known each other for 15 years. McMillan, a therapist in the Nederland community, knew that Strickland was involved with the Radical Joy for Hard Times group and thought that a gathering of the community could help ease the despair and anger that many residents have felt after seeing the devastation that mitigation logging has wreaked on popular biking, riding and hiking trails.
McMillan’s husband Pedro is a logger who understands the need for fire mitigation. He also knows that the ground cover is destroyed in clear cutting, leading to erosion and weed infestation that smother native grasses.
McMillan said, “There has been loss here, but this gathering is less a protest than a community coming together to experience the beauty of the land and each other. There is room for all feelings — anger, hope, joy and sadness. Maybe coming together here will help us all feel not so isolated.”
Strickland said she likes to think of the gathering as “a space before the action.”
“We should listen to what the land says to our hearts and minds. We are not jumping into action, but what if volunteers came to clear the land of debris. What can happen when creativity responds, and we come together with our hearts.”
Charles Richard of Nederland said he has been coming to the West Magnolia area for 7 years, but Saturday is the first time he has been there since the cutting began. “I have a perfect sitting rock up here and it has always been a pleasure. I am pretty shocked, and I don’t want to see it get any worse.”
About 10 people sat in a circle at the bottom of a barren hill, pulling out their umbrellas, putting on their raincoats, a gentle grimness to their demeanor. Strickland told them they could honor the earth on their own, but that people from wounded places all over the world experiencing mine pollution, clear cuts and toxic waste were sharing their feelings and were connected. People are hearing this story all over the world, and that is one of her goals, to share stories of the land.
United States Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Paul Krisanitz dropped by to see how the gathering was going. He said: “This project has been done as well as a project on this scale could be done. Aesthetically, I give it a thumbs down, but as far as fire mitigation, this is a huge buffer for the town of Nederland. The slash piles are a concern, but they will be taken care of, either by prescribed burn or chipping and hauling.”
Krisanitz addressed the group’s questions and then went on to other duties. Strickland directed the residents go their own ways, to walk out on the land and listen to what it has to say, to search for bits of beauty among the ruins.
When they returned, the group gathered again and shared some of their emotions and thoughts. Charles Richard called the experience the “West Magnolia Tree Wake.” He said he saw that soil was disturbed in the clear cut areas, and where machinery was involved in dragging out the trees, the soil had been scraped away along with plant life. On the edges of the clear cut, there was still less disturbed soil where bright yellow arnica and soft-leaved Artemesia were growing.
Ruth McMillan said she hoped children would come to see what happened to the forest and perhaps discover in their future another way to handle the situation. The group called on the Spiritual Presence to support their call for the healing of the land. As they spoke, a circle of blue sky broke through the clouds and sunshine blessed the gathering. Strickland then invited the group to make a Radical Joy bird out of branches from the clear cut.
Bonnie Sundance said: “That action which left in place our experience and wishes was so healing. I felt more aligned with and connected with this clear cutting than other such clear cut land I had seen and experienced before. It was indeed transformative.”
Sundance went on to say that she will be doing an Earth Exchange healing ritual with women on a different, more lightly fire mitigated piece of land outside of Nederland on June 22. If interested, reply to delight@denver.net
Elsha Kirby, Forest Service Public Affairs spokesperson, said that fuel treatment operations such as skidding and hauling will continue with large trucks moving in the West Magnolia area and on County Road 132W. Contract crews plan to complete work before their July 2013 deadline and return to plant trees in treated areas to diversify the stand and increase resilience against future mountain pine beetle infestations.
The West Magnolia project area was first closed to all traffic in June 2012 for safety reasons during fuel mitigation work and hazardous tree cutting. This project is part of the Forest Service 2009 Lump Gulch Fuel Treatment Project decision, and its treatment prescription was designed by specialists to efficiently reduce hazardous fuels, address goals outlined in the local Community Wildfire Protection Plans and address pine beetles while minimizing impacts to the ecosystem.
The majority of treatment parcels in the West Magnolia area were made up of same-aged and same-sized Lodgepole trees. These Lodgepole and other conifers above 5 inches in diameter at breast height, which are most susceptible to beetles, were removed.
Because Lodgepole trees grow together, they rely on the “stand” for protection from the wind. Creating spaces between individuals (thinning) weakens them and causes single trees to blow down. Trees were removed in parcels to prevent mass blow down.
Trees less than 5 inches DBH and islands of aspen and smaller conifers were retained to diversify the new generation of seedlings. The resulting increase in variety of tree ages and species creates a more diverse stand resistant to pine beetles and other diseases.
Kirby said that special instructions were given to West Range Reclamation to minimize and repair treatment impacts and provide for diversity across the landscape. These include leaving approximately five snags (dead trees that are down or standing) per acre for wildlife habitat. Slash such as tree tops, limbs and trunks were scattered within the unit to reduce soil erosion from wind-scouring and provide nutrients to the ecosystem.
This spring and summer, Forest Service specialists anticipate treated areas will begin to look similar to meadows. Ribbons of uncut trees between treatment parcels will break up the open areas for wildlife passage and aesthetics. Project slash will be left to cure for a least one season, dependent on humidity and moisture patterns, before the material can be chipped, masticated or burned.
Even though the wood in this area is of low value, larger tree sections have been purchased by the contractor as a way of subsidizing costs. With surprisingly few markets that can use the wood, WRR was been able to locate places in Colorado and other states that can market the material.
After hauling is done, small sections of the area may be temporarily closed to restore compacted soils, repair damage made during treatment to Forest Service designated roads and trails, seed “landings” where cut trees were stacked for loading, and place erosion control devices. Unofficial roads and trails will not be rehabilitated or opened.
The West Magnolia clear cutting is a done deal. It is up to local residents or non-profits to help mitigate the impact.