Winter Park Resort, Forest Service team up to clear way for new growth in wake of beetle kill | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park Resort, Forest Service team up to clear way for new growth in wake of beetle kill

Will Bublitz
Sky-Hi Daily News

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Temporary closures of some hiking and mountain biking trails will take place at Winter Park Resort during the next few weeks as the resort begins the removal of pine beetle-killed trees near its ski slopes.

Last week, the resort began logging operations along Vasquez Ridge and Cooper Creek near the Pioneer Lift. A total of 68 acres will be cut in that area to remove lodgepole pines killed by the ongoing pine beetle epidemic.

Brendan Irving, Winter Park Resort’s Project Manager for Planning, said the timber-cutting operation is technically referred to as an “overstory reduction” to thin out and remove the hundreds of dead trees.

“This is more of a forest-health project that will allow the regeneration and revegetation of the younger trees in the area,” he said. “Another important goal of the project is fuel and fire reduction to help make the area safer from a wildfire.”

The 68 acres are part of the “Pioneer Timber Sale” that was worked out between the resort and the U.S. Forest Service earlier this year. The logging work is being done by Hahn Peak Enterprises of Granby.

The tree cutting along Vasquez Ridge and Cooper Creek is expected to continue through the end of September. Some mountain bike trails in that area will be affected, including temporary closures.

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“Signs will be posted to let everyone know where the work is being done on weekdays,” Irving said. “On weekends, the workers will be moving off the bike trails and doing cleanup in other areas.”

While signs will be posted in the work areas, the resort’s Communications Coordinator Jennifer deBerge is urging the public to obey the posted signs and “exercise caution” while hiking or biking around the Pioneer Lift for the next few weeks. She suggested that users check out the resort’s Web site for updates on what areas are temporarily closed.

Both Irving and deBerge stressed that the primary goal of the timber cutting project is forest regeneration. Removing the dead trees opens the land up so that younger lodgepole pine, spruce and fir trees can get more space and sunlight to grow.

“This is not clear cutting,” deBerge said. “We’re helping to revegetate this area by removing the standing dead trees that are crowding out the younger ones.”

Although most of the dead trees within the logging area will be cut down, a few will be left untouched. These “reserve or wildlife trees” are being kept because they show evidence that wildlife are currently using them for nesting purposes.

“If a tree has holes bored in it, we leave it standing,” Irving said. “Squirrels, chipmunks, birds and other animals may be living in it.”

Under the tree-removal plan, three or four of these “reserve or wildlife trees” are being left on each acre that is being logged.

“We’re a ski area, but we also understand that this is wildlife habitat,” deBerge said. “We trying to do what’s best to improve the future of this forest. We’re doing it in cooperation with the Forest Service.”

The timber-cutting project is part of a five-year cooperative plan between Winter Park Resort and the U.S. Forest Service to thin and remove pine beetle-killed trees to help speed up the revegetation of the forest. More than 3,000 acres of Forest Service land is leased to the resort.

In addition to this year’s timber sale, the resort’s staff removed more than 700 beetle-killed trees in May. These “hazard trees” were cut down because they lined the ski slopes and potentially could have fallen onto them.

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