Winter Park takes next step in coping with beetle kill | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park takes next step in coping with beetle kill

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, CO Coloroado

On Jan. 22, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service announced the results of the 2009 forest health annual aerial survey. The survey revealed that the bark beetle infestation affected about 524,000 new acres in 2009, bringing the total number of acres impacted in Colorado and southern Wyoming to 3.6 million since the first signs of outbreak in 1996.

The pine beetle, a native species, strikes older pine trees. Grand County’s forests are particularly susceptible to the blight because they consist primarily of even stands of older lodgepole created by clearcut logging around the turn of the century to build the railroads, coupled with fire suppression and the lumber demands of the two world wars.

Following World War II, the clearcuts regenerated. But, the logging cycle in the area’s forests was put on hold in the 1970s and 80s by the environmentalist movement, which created a stigma against clearcutting practices, allowing the lodgepole to mature and become susceptible to disease.

The Town of Winter Park has been on the forefront of the fight against the pine beetle infestation since it reached the Fraser Valley a decade ago, said town manager Drew Nelson.

“We are light years from where we were when this all started,” Nelson said. “There are still ordinances on the books in Winter Park that make it illegal to cut a tree without permission. But, at this point we are encouraging people to cut as many trees as possible.”

Instead of mandating the removal of dead trees from private property as other jurisdictions have done, Winter Park implemented an innovative program with the support of voters to fund the curbside removal of infested trees in town. In 2004, voters approved an additional levy of 2 mills to pay for the program.

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Property owners and contractors remove the trees, at will, from private property and deposit the logs and slash along the curb. The town picks up the tree debris, transporting the homeowner’s logs to market and burning the slash in a curtain burner that incinerates the wood at extremely high temperatures in a hyper-oxygenated environment without creating smoke.

Gauged a success, the program won an award Monday, Jan. 25, from the Colorado chapter of the American Public Works Association for its innovation, achievement and potential application to other municipalities.

“Anytime you can mitigate a problem and improve the town’s safety, it’s worthy of recognition,” said Able Moreno, 2009 chapter president. “This was a simple concept, but it has made a significant impact on the community. It’s a great partnership between the town and the community, and we’re real proud with the Town of Winter Park for taking the initiative to improve public safety and deal with the beetle kill epidemic.”

100,000 trees

No one quite knows the count on the number of trees Witner Park has removed since the blight struck, but Winter Park’s forestry program supervisor Stefan Petersen said his crews have identified more than 100,000 affected trees inside town limits since 2004.

In 2008, when the infestation reached epidemic proportions, crews simply stopped counting.

“It took up too many of our resources,” said Public Works Director Russ Chameroy

Many, but not all of the town’s afflicted trees, have been removed, Petersen said: “In the past 6 years, everybody has gotten the easy trees. Now the problem is the more difficult ones: Trees near power lines, between houses, inside decks. These are the most hazardous ones.”

Foresters have managed to clear most of the infected trees from the town’s parks and open space, but newly afflicted trees are always appearing.

“We’re staying even,” Petersen said. “We’re not winning, but we’re treading water.”

The goal, at this point, Petersen said, is to encourage property owners to create a defensible space around their homes. The Colorado State Forest Service recommends home owners create a 30-foot buffer around their home with no trees, and that they thin trees within 40-70 feet of their home, spacing crowns by 10 feet. These defensible zones protect homes from fire and remove trees that could fall and damage property and endanger people.

Petersen said the biggest advice he has for communities that are just starting to deal with the bark beetle is to be patient: “Don’t point fingers if your neighbors haven’t cut their trees. They may not know about the blight or they may not have the money to take the trees down. Their trees aren’t infecting your trees. The beetle goes where it wants to go and, ultimately, we are all going to have the same problem.”

Working on the railroad

Now, the Colorado State Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service have awarded the Town of Winter Park a $160,000 grant to remove hazard trees located in the Union Pacific Railroad right of way that bisects the town.

“When you go up on Rendezvous and look down at town, there is a ribbon of red that runs right through the center of it,” said Winter Park town manager Drew Nelson. “The railroad right of way is the one thing in town that’s left to cut.”

The project, known as the Winter Park Railroad Easement Thinning Project, will remove approximately 3,000 hazard trees along a three-mile section of track between Moffat Tunnel and King’s Crossing Road. Removing these hazard trees will significantly reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic wildfire starting along the right of way while simultaneously producing a 200-foot-wide fire break through the middle of Winter Park. The project will coincide with thinning projects at Winter Park Resort.

Logging is anticipated to start in June and will retain as many as eight full-time employees in the Fraser Valley for the duration of the project, Nelson said.

The grant will pay for a logging contractor and his crew plus two of the town’s five timber crew members will be paid through the program. In addition, a Union Pacific flagman will need to be present whenever logging crews are working in the railroad right of way. Union Pacific bills out its flagmen at $97.13. per hour, for a total estimated cost of $23,300 to man the line during the 6- to 8-week project, Nelson said.

The grant, made possible by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), is a collaboration between the Town of Winter Park, Winter Park Resort, East Grand Fire Protection District No. 4 and Union Pacific Railroad.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.

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