Vail Resorts makes best of beetle kill
December 9, 2008
EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Vail Resorts isn’t trying to fight pine beetles anymore ” they’ve lost that battle. Instead, the company is trying to manage the beetle problem as best it can, said Vail Resorts planner Tom Allender.
“We fought it for a while, but after numerous meetings with the Forest Service, it became very clear that the war was lost,” Allender said. “Now it’s about what we do with the aftermath.”
Both Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek have cut down acres of beetle infested trees and have started management plans for dealing with both the beetle wood and the space it left.
Vail Mountain crews removed about 16 acres of beetle-infested lodgepole pines next to Chair 8 this past summer.
They spent the last few years thinning the area between the Born Free and Pride trails, but it wasn’t working, Allender said.
“We finally got to the point where we were going in there every year,” Allender said. “At some point, it seemed pointless to go in there and take out more and more dead trees.”
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The company uses two criteria when looking at removing beetle-kill wood: visual impact and asset protection. The project easily fit both, Allender said.
“It’s a highly visual area, and it’s right next to the gondola,” he said.
The mountain is working with the U.S. Forest Service to determine what to do with the new open area. Right now, it’s roped off. But opening the terrain to skiing is a possibility, Allender said.
“I would assume that later in the year we’ll be skiing in there and have conversations with the Forest Service on whether it ends up being skiing or if we should actively reforest it,” Allender said.
Although Beaver Creek is clearing acres of beetle-kill wood off the mountain during the summers, a lot of it is sticking around for the winter. The mountain started turning the wood into trail signs two years ago.
“We thought it was a cool thing to do,” said Adam Borg, assistant director of the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol. “It’s a mountain beautification project.
About 100 traditional signs on the mountain have been replaced by signs erected with the timber of beetle-killed trees. Beaver Creek plans to keep replacing the signs as money is available, and they’ve got a couple hundred to go, Borg said.
“We try to cut as many as we can each summer,” Borg said. “They’re several hundred signs on the mountain.”
An area of beetle-kill wood next to Chair 6 was cleared this summer. The open spot will be used to make a new terrain park called Rodeo, and the sign for it will be made out of beetle wood.
Local log crafter Jim Delong turned the mountain onto the idea of using the wood for signs and Beaver Creek ran with it, Borg said. The mountain has also used some of the logs to construct parts of storage and lift shacks.
Vail is in the process of finalizing a vegetation management plan that maps out the mountain’s plan of attack toward pine beetles for the next 10 years.
Allender described the plan as a menu of treatment options for beetle infested lodgepole pine, aspen and spruce trees on the entire mountain.
“We’re looking forward to what we can do to preserve the area,” Allender said.
The 10-year plan is being reviewed by the Forest Service before it’s finalized.
“Nobody has gone through this sort of widespread forest health issue,” Allender said. “There isn’t a playbook ” we’re kind of writing it as it goes.”
The beetle infestation has killed about 1.5 million acres of trees, about 500,000 of which was in 2007.
Regenerating the forest is a goal for a lot of the spots on the moutain, but finding uses for the resource is also a concern, Allender said.
The majority of the beetle-kill wood Vail cuts down is sent to a mill in Montrose where it’s turned into lumber.
“We’re as concerned about this as the rest of the community is,” Allender said. “We’ll be working on it as resources are available.”