Forsythe II gets support with conditions

John Scarffe, Nederland.  Nederland residents, especially those from Big Springs, expressed their concerns about the Forsythe II project during a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 5, at the Nederland Community Center. The regular January 3 Board meeting was canceled because of noticing issues, so a meeting was scheduled to primarily discuss the Forsythe project.

Several residents of the Big Springs neighborhood forwarded a letter of concern about portions of the proposed Forsythe II fuels mitigation project to be conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and hired contractors, according to background information. Concern surrounds a 40-acre forest parcel at the west end of Big Springs and Nederland-specific areas.

The Board previously commented, via the Nederland Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Board (PROSAB) on the project and adopted a resolution of support for the project on August 4, 2015. According to the Arapaho and Roosevelts National Forest website, the Forsythe II project will be located on the Roosevelt National Forest’s Boulder Ranger District.

The project aims to reduce the severity and intensity of a wildfire within the wildland urban interface, to increase resistance and resiliency to future natural disturbances and to provide private property landowners the opportunity to complete defensible space mitigation around their homes on adjacent National Forest System lands in the vicinity of Gross Reservoir and Nederland, according to the website.

“Proposed forest management activities include clearcutting, thinning and prescribed burning in lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, aspen and meadows,” according to the website. Forest Supervisor Monte Williams officially released his draft decision on December 8, 2016. The release of the draft decision began the formal 30-day objection period, which concluded at midnight January 9, 2017.

Under the draft decision, forest management activities would occur on 2,855 acres of National Forest within the nearly 19,000-acre project area. The work would be phased over a 10-15 year period. The draft decision would also provide opportunity for private property owners to implement defensible space projects on National Forest within 300 feet of structures; and it would allow for construction of ingress and egress routes for the Big Springs Subdivision.

In a letter of support for the project, Randy Lee, on behalf of PROSAB, wrote on
September 22, 2015, that, overall, the proposed action is well thought out and presented, and PROSAB welcomes the provisions to work with homeowners on defensible space into surrounding Forest lands.  PROSAB suggested a few changes.

Consider extending the project boundaries to include national forest lands within area to the west and north of the town. Treated lodgepole stands that fall within the boundaries as fuel breaks should not be reseeded with conifers so as to maximize the value of these areas as fuel breaks. The value of down timber as habitat and future soil amendment needs to be balanced .against the negative aesthetics of jackstraw timber in highly visible zones.

Big Springs residents presented a letter to the Board signed by 34 people. “At the request of the town, the Forest Service Forsythe II project will clearcut forest along the southern border of Big Springs,” according to the letter. “This clearcutting will have a disastrous effect on the fire safety, beauty, livability, and health of our community for years to come.”

The letter asked the Board to work with Fire Chief Dirr and the Forest Service to find an alternative that will provide appropriate fire mitigation while maintaining the other values the forest provides. “As long as town officials support this clearcutting, citizens’ direct appeals to the Forest Service will have no effect. Unlike the clearcutting plans, Forsythe provisions to thin the dense lodgepole in patch cuts made in 2001 and to offer homeowners the chance to extend their homes’ defensible space onto national forest lands are positive measures that will reduce residents’ risk from wildfire.”

The steep, north-facing slopes scheduled for clearcutting are not necessary for staging firefighters, according to the letter. “Clearcutting is against state guidelines for fire mitigation around communities, which focus on removal of surface and ladder fuels; State and county guidelines call for immediate removal of slash, tree boles, and other woody debris, but Forest Service treatments pile slash for burning, increasing fire risk until piles are burned, which varies from two to 15 years in our area.”

Clearcutting will also harm the Big Springs community by eliminating vital wind protection and causing soil erosion on steep slopes and those directly exposed to winds from the west, according to the letter. Provisions allowing homeowners to extend their defensible space mitigation onto national forest land are a positive element of Forsythe II, but the draft Decision Notice eliminated alternatives that would have given Big Springs homeowners this opportunity, the letter said. This was later clarified by Trustee Dallas Masters, who had spoken with the Forest Service on this point, who said the defensible space allowance remains in the decision.

“We urge town officials to work with the Forest Service to permit town management of mitigation around Big Springs on the model worked out for the Water Treatment plant, where Saws and Slaws volunteers performed appropriate treatments designed by the county,” according to the letter. “Now that Forsythe II allows for homeowner mitigation on national forest land, such an arrangement should be easier to arrange than previously.”

The Board agreed to write a letter of support for the Forsythe II project but stressing the need for the Forest Service to pay attention to resident concerns. On January 9, The Town announced that PROSAB has submitted a letter regarding the Forsythe II fuels mitigation project, in time for the objection deadline, and posted it at:

The letter incorporates the concerns expressed by residents at the public hearing on January 5. It also continues to express the Town’s overall support for the project.