Granby Ranch resort prioritizes hazard tree work
July 19, 2010
Paul Voegeli couldn’t be happier that tree-removal work is being completed near his home.A resident of the Winter Park Highlands – the 1970s-platted subdivision recently deemed in wildfire plans as having among the highest risk in the area due to steep lots and limited egress – Voegeli had been one of the neighborhood’s foremost advocates for tree clean-up.At a Granby public meeting this spring, he said that a community effort in his neighborhood was serving well to clean up dead trees along the eastern edge of the Highlands property line. “But the area to the west makes you break out into a cold sweat,” he said.He referred to a large swath of trees as part of the 5,000-acre Granby Ranch resort, which for 20 years has had an active forestry plan in place, according to Granby Ranch officials. But the onset of the pine beetle epidemic quickly overwhelmed that plan, which is now due for a revision in light of the epidemic. In the past 11 years, under the ownership of the Ciprianis of Granby, Granby Ranch treated about half of its 2,000 forested acres, according to the resort’s contracted forester for longer than a decade, George Edwards of Land Management Assistance LLC of Granby. Working with the State Forest Service, the subdivision recently acquired a matching grant that will provide $400 per acre to clear 115 acres, 30 of which are in an area directly west of the Highlands to protect those homes mostly threatened by possible a crown fire that could swiftly travel uphill along the direction of prevailing winds. “As we speak, things are being done to clean up,” Voegeli said from his home last week. “It’s a dramatically different appearance already. There’s still a lot to do, but at least there’s a significant zone between the backside of the Highlands and SilverCreek. And it’s allowing me to sleep better at night.”Edwards, a retired long-time forester with the U.S. Forest Service, said the mitigation work Voegeli is talking about is helping to tie into 1,000 acres of forest treatment Granby Ranch underwent in the winter of 2007-2008 when one of the largest mills in the region was still purchasing quality timber. That afforded Granby Ranch the ability to treat that much acreage at once.”I feel proud of the accomplishments we’ve made, that we were able to capitalize on the timber when it was still merchantable,” Edwards said.Since then, aspens and other young trees have started to fill in those treated acres, yet for remaining acres still in need of treatment, markets for the wood have diminished along with the quality of the dead wood. Pellet plants in the area have been slow to fulfill the need for an economically viable solution, Edwards said, and the last large mill in the region is presently in receivership.”What we need is a market,” Edwards said on his 45th year in forestry, “to help cover the cost of harvesting. Then we could do a great deal more.”Presently, wood is being removed at about $800 to $2,000 an acre, he said. Granby Ranch has contracted the tree-removal company Rocky Mountain Timber, which takes the logs and turns them into small firewood bundles that are sold in every Kum & Go in Colorado, in areas of Keystone and Breckenridge, and in some King Soopers and Safeway stores.”There’s a lot of handling involved in producing those small bundles of firewood,” Edwards said.The other two-thirds of the grant-supported tree removal currently under way will take place south of the SolVista Ski area, Edwards said, which will further help to protect the ski area and homes. Hand logging may take place on the islands of the ski area to try and maintain popular downhill and mountain bike trails. Treatments will also take place north of the ski area to protect more homes, he said. Although mature Innsbrook and Val-Moritz Village subdivisions west of the ski areas have been extremely proactive in eliminating dead trees in their neighborhoods, Edwards said, the Granby Ranch trees contiguous to the subdivisions are not in priority for treatment at this time for fire-behavior reasons. A wildfire that would begin in those 300 acres of Granby Ranch trees would likely move uphill and away from those subdivisions, he said.Granby Ranch official Kyle Harris said because Granby Ranch does not have plans to treat that area at this time, the Ranch would be willing to provide temporary easements to the subdivision HOAs for them to initiate a fire break.”I don’t know when we are going to get to it,” Harris said. “We have limited resources and we have to pick our priorities.”Meanwhile, Granby Ranch cut back significantly on spraying trees this spring, according to Edwards. The beetles are assumed to have moved on, so Granby Ranch “took a calculated risk” and chose to spray only a few trees at the golf course. In the midst of Granby Ranch’s slow recovery from the recession, the money saved could be used for tree removal.”Granby Ranch is putting a lot into its forest program relative to the economy and the way things are right now,” Edwards said.