State Foresters work with BLM to tackle beetle-kill pine in Grand County | SkyHiNews.com

State Foresters work with BLM to tackle beetle-kill pine in Grand County

A stand of beetle-killed pine trees overlooks Middle Park in this 2010 file photo taken by former Sky-Hi photographer Byron Hetzler. Beetle-killed pine trees infest large portions of Grand County.

Arriving in Middle Park is a moment to remember.

I'll never forget the first time my family and I crested the top of Berthoud Pass and saw the long jagged rock expansive of the Continental Divide stretching out before us. Unfortunately one of the other things I noticed right off the bat was the abundance of dead trees. It didn't take long for a friendly local to explain the significance of pine beetles as they lamented the infestation that swept through Grand County and blackened our hillsides with the skeletal remains of innumerable lodgepole pines.

In an effort to mitigate the hazard posed by these trees the Colorado State Forest Service is working in conjunction with the Northwest Colorado District of the Bureau of Land Management on an ambitious plan to clear out beetle kill pine on state and private lands, along with portions of BLM managed lands adjacent to those parcels. The project entails a five-year cross boundary plan made possible through the Good Neighbor Authority.

According to a press release issued by the Granby office of the State Forest Service, the Good Neighbor Authority is a, "national program that allows state agencies to conduct forest treatments on federal lands – through effective sharing of resources – to achieve landscape-scale impacts."

“We still have a chance to harvest this wood before it’s all on the ground,”By exercising the Good Neighbor Authority, we are able to address priority areas on the landscape quickly, and regardless of land ownership designations.” Matt SchiltzForester with the State Forest Service’s Granby District

Part of the push to get at the beetle kill pine is an effort to harvest the deadwood before it decomposes beyond a useful state.

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"We still have a chance to harvest this wood before it's all on the ground," said Matt Schiltz, a forester with the State Forest Service's Granby District. "By exercising the Good Neighbor Authority, we are able to address priority areas on the landscape quickly, and regardless of land ownership designations."

State Foresters will be focusing their attention on areas of Grand County that have been heavily impacted by what the State Forest press release referred to as, "the two-decade long pine beetle epidemic." According to State Forest Service officials, the objective of the project will be, "harvesting timber to remove dead trees for beneficial use, which leads to creating forest stands that are healthier and more defensible from catastrophic wildfire events, and improved forest health for watershed protection".

Under the project agreement, the State Forest Service and the federal BLM will have different areas of responsibility and will work together to prioritize various elements within the overall project. Under the auspices of the Good Neighbor Agreement, State Foresters will handle aspects of project design, project layout, and overseeing some contracts depending on coordination with BLM foresters. The BLM will complete environmental analyses for each project as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, more commonly known as NEPA.

The State Forest Service expects the majority of the treatments in Grand County will be accomplished as timber sales, though they also expect to implement some non-commercial treatment and mitigation options. Officials are currently planning to apply the project to two sites totaling approximately 690 acres. One of the two already selected project areas is northeast of Kremmling in the Big Horn Park area. The other is located north of Granby in the Trail Mountain area.

Additional sites have also been proposed for the project. According to the State Forest Service press release, "Harvesting operations could begin late this year – most likely in winter, when frozen soil and a layer of snow help reduce impacts to the landscape."

"These beetle-killed stands are falling at an alarmingly rapid rate right now," said Schiltz. "This is an effective way to deal with them."

Schiltz added that all people should avoid entirely beetle-killed forest areas on high wind day due to the risk of blow overs and that people should, "exercise caution in those forests even on clam days due to the risk of falling trees."

This is not the first time the State Forest Service has implemented the Good Neighbor Authority to tackle projects in Middle Park but this is the first instance when the State Foresters have worked with the BLM in Grand County on a similar project. The State Forest Service is currently implementing similar programs in Jackson, Eagle and Routt Counties.