Blue Valley Ranch receives national Arbor Day Foundation award |

Blue Valley Ranch receives national Arbor Day Foundation award

Jim Morgan
Sky-Hi Daily News
Kremmling, Colorado

It was one of those letters that puts a smile on your face.

In mid-February, John Kossler, the natural resources manager at Blue Valley Ranch opened a letter from the Arbor Day Foundation that began with the word “Congratulations!”

The ranch had been named the recipient of the foundation’s 2009 Good Steward Award ” one of 20 different awards the presented in April to individuals and groups from across America “who are making a difference around the world through planting trees or through nature education.”

“The winners honored this year are doing their part to inspire the next generation of tree planters and conservationists across the United States,” said John Rosenow, chief executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation, who described Blue Valley as a true conservation ranch.

The foundation cited BVR owner Paul Jones and his staff for protecting and enhancing the abundance of native trees and wildlife in the area, which includes 6,500 acres of forests and woodlands.

During the past four years Blue Valley Ranch has worked with private consultants and Colorado State University to restore historical species of native trees. Since 2006, 35,000 conifers have been planted at the ranch, and another 25,000 are scheduled to be planted this year.

In an interview with Kossler, who coordinates the tree regeneration projects on the 26,000-acre ranch located south of Kremmling, he talked about how forest stewardship is essential to the ranch’s focus on conservation.

Question: The award is for forest stewardship. Is that something that you think about as a matter of routine at BVR?

Kossler: Forest stewardship is certainly a matter of routine at Blue Valley Ranch, but is also one part of an overall vision of environmental stewardship that includes grass and shrub lands, riparian and wetlands, and agricultural production. We try to plan our habitat work around what ecosystem processes can be managed for overall ecosystem health and function, which benefits wildlife, livestock and people. Even before the pine beetle really came to the forefront of our forest management, we were trying to manage forest stands to improve stand diversity and watershed hydrology, to the benefit of elk, deer, sage grouse and other wildlife species.

Question: Is the tree-planting program something that will ever end?

Kossler: Planting trees has been a part of the ranch’s annual operations for 15 years. Only in the last 4-5 years have we stepped up the number of trees and number of tree species that we plant in light of the pine beetle epidemic. Our natural resources master plan includes plans for further tree plantings, and as long as that continues to fit into our overall vision of land stewardship, then we will continue the program.

Question: Where does the pine beetle dilemma fit into the tree program?

Kossler: I would say that the current tree planting program has become part of dealing with the pine beetle dilemma. In our forestry treatments, we’ve already seen successful regeneration of lodgepole pine (averaging over 1,200 stems per acre) and aspen (up to 8,000+ stems per acre), usually within one year of treatment. This natural regeneration is very important for the success of our forestry program; however, historical species compositions also included Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce. Planting these additional native trees will help re-establish that species composition more quickly. In the end, our tree plantings will help add species diversity to the healthy recovery of our forests in the post-pine beetle era.

Question: In what ways has BVR sought to enhance and protect native trees and wildlife?

Kossler: The pine beetle epidemic is essentially over on Blue Valley Ranch, as the beetles have taken nearly every lodgepole pine tree on our 6,500 acres of forest. Our strategy right now is to foster successful forest regeneration as quickly as possible.

Additionally, in our aspen stands we have seen the impacts of Sudden Aspen Decline (SAD) and decades of heavy browsing from an overpopulation of elk. To address these issues, we stimulate new aspen regeneration through cutting or root ripping and then fence those aspen clones to protect the regeneration from elk over-browsing. Healthy aspen stands are some of the most biologically diverse communities in the West, and they provide habitat for nearly all wildlife species. Also, planting cottonwoods and willows help to enhance the river and riparian corridors, which provides improved habitat for fish, waterfowl, and big game.

Question: Do you think of forest stewardship as a legacy and, if so, why?

Kossler: Forest stewardship certainly is a legacy for the owner, as our efforts now will not come to full fruition for decades. This kind of foresight on the part of the ranch and the owner is unique, and shows a rare ability to maintain a long-term vision while dealing with an immediate problem.

We plan to continue this legacy of forest stewardship into the future, as we are now entering the post-pine beetle era. The beetle has essentially wiped out our lodgepole forests in the blink of an eye, which means that an entire forest is now recovering from that disturbance at the same time. Good forest management will be essential over the next 20 – 50 years to ensure that the conditions that lead to the current pine beetle outbreak (for instance, an even-aged stand of timber) do not lead us to a similar catastrophe for the next generation.

Question: What is the biggest challenge in planting 25,000 trees in a single year?

Kossler: Successful survival of planted seedlings depends heavily on site selection, and choosing where to plant based on soil, hydrology, exposure to the sun and other microclimate variables is one of the biggest challenges for planting that many trees. That, and the sheer labor involved in digging 25,000 holes.

Question: How have the wildlife benefited from the tree-planting program?

Kossler: Tree communities, particularly aspen, directly provide forage and cover for nearly all species of wildlife. Cottonwoods provide nesting habitat for birds like bald eagles, and provide shade for cooler fisheries. Conifers offer cover for big game species, perches for raptors and habitat for many small birds and mammals. Aspen clones support one of the most biologically diverse communities in the West, and act as a barrier to wildfire.

Question: Where do the forestry and tree planting programs go from here?

Kossler: Many environmental and social factors have shaped forest management policies across the state (and even the West) resulting in an entire forest that grew and matured at the same time. This even-aged stand of timber became vulnerable to environmental stressors, such as drought, at the same time. In other words, there existed no resiliency in the ecosystem to handle extended dry periods, which are common in the West. This situation presented an opportunity for the pine beetles to not only thrive but to proliferate out of control by preying on drought-stressed trees.

Future management of our forest ecosystems is going to be crucial as we recover from the pine beetle era and ensure that we do not make the same mistake twice. We must plan on re-treating some stands of timber in 10, 20, even 50 years to avoid a monoculture of trees, and to build resiliency in the ecosystem across entire landscapes. In that way, the stress of extended drought and the threat of bark beetle invasion will not affect entire watersheds at the same time. The forestry and tree planting programs on Blue Valley Ranch take this into account in planning for forest stewardship in the future.