Forest Service proposes to remove and sell 1,500 acres of dead pine from northwest of Granby
The Sulphur Ranger District held an open house at its Granby headquarters earlier this week in search of public comment on the newly proposed Kauffman Creek Vegetation Management project.
The proposal would treat about 1,500 acres of dead lodgepole pine on National Forest System Lands about 10 miles northwest of Granby. The project will operate as a timber sale, allowing the forest service to meet its annual sale requirements while also addressing the need to restore forestlands with declining health.
“One of the reasons why we’re going in there now is there’s been a renewed emphasis from the Department of Agriculture to cut more trees and provide more wood fiber for our mills,” said Jon Morrissey, district ranger. “But we also want to do more hazardous fuels reduction, and try to cut down on the amount of catastrophic wildfires.”
The forest service is required to harvest about 1,850,000 cubic feet of trees per year from each of their forests including the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and the Pawnee National Grassland, according to Morrissey. This process occurs largely via stewardship and timber sale contracts, which is how they hope to proceed with the Kauffman Creek project.
Once the public comment period has ended the Sulphur Ranger District will put out a request for bids to local logging contractors, who will pay for the right to enter the forest and remove the beetle kill pine. This means that the only costs to the forest service would be for the analysis and preparation of the sales.
“Timber sales are our ideal way of achieving that goal,” said Kevin McLaughlin, who heads up timber management for the district. “We’ve got all these mills in Grand County which makes it a lot easier for us to meet our land management objectives through timber sale operations. It’s not a big cost to us aside from prep and planning. On the Front Range it’s a little different, and the markets aren’t there. So the work they get done they have to pay to the tune of several thousand dollars per acre. It gets pricey.”
The project area would likely be split into three or four different sales, with one taking place each year starting in 2019, according to district Forester Tom Williams.
But business isn’t the only goal of the project. The forest service is also looking to repair the landscape that was ravaged by mountain pine beetle in the late 90s and early 2000s. The epidemic killed a majority of lodgepole pine trees on 200,000 acres of the Sulphur Ranger District, part of more than three million acres impacted in Colorado during that time.
Morrissey said that the forest service has already salvaged about 15,000 acres, or about 7.5 percent of the problem areas, but noted that several areas aren’t accessible due to terrain. This project is meant to make the forest more resilient to future insect and disease infestations by creating more diversity within the forest.
“When settlements were coming in during the mining boom, mother nature had all these great mosaic patterns of trees,” said Morrissey. “There were a few thousand acres of one age, a few hundred acres of another age and so on. In the late 1800s we set up the forest so that everything came up all at one time, all the same age, and we set ourselves up for a perfect storm.
“The beetles had this perfect fuel source to feed: big, old, drought-stricken and dense trees. It was continuous. They didn’t have to fly very far to lay eggs and let the larva do their damage, and there were almost no natural barriers. Mother nature provided the system where we wouldn’t get these huge beetle numbers going at one time.”
The idea is to return the forest to its original mosaic pattern, creating a diversity of trees with different sizes, classes and ages so that large-scale landscape disturbances like insect outbreaks and wildfires won’t affect the entire forest at the same time.
“We’re punching holes in the landscape,” said Brian Slagle, forest service representative.
But they’ve got to be sure not to punch holes in the wrong spots. Scoping in the area has already begun, and precautions are already being planned for protected wildlife. Forest service officials identified a goshawk nest on the site, and are planning a 150-acre wide berth around the nest. Areas of suitable lynx habitat were also dropped from the plans, and talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife have already begun to address elk emphasis areas on the site.
The ranger district is asking residents and interested parties to reach out with concerns and issues related to the project by June 14. For more information on the project visit the forest service’s website.
“I think this is going to be a good project,” said Morrissey. “This county is used to cutting trees, especially mountain pine beetle trees. So I think that if there’s any issues brought up we’ll be able to work through those.”
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