Aspen Skiing Co. plans to offset cutting trees for Pandora’s expansion with help in Lake Christine Fire burn scar
The U.S. Forest Service has started hazard tree removal on Basalt Mountain.
Vehicular access is closed on the upper gate on Basalt Mountain Road, near the Blue Creek Trail. Pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists can still travel on the road but may experience delays.
Crews will cut down standing dead trees that pose a threat to travelers on the road. Numerous trees were hollowed out or partially burned and weakened throughout the forest in the Lake Christine Fire last year.
Hazard trees within about 100 feet on either side of the road will be felled, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. The cost of chipping the trees and removing the chips would have been prohibitive so the trunks and branches will be left alongside the road, he said. The area will be opened later this year for firewood collecting.
The work is scheduled to take three weeks but factors such as weather could extend the needed time.
Aspen Skiing Co. will provide funds to plant thousands of seedlings on Basalt Mountain in the Lake Christine burn scar to offset its plan to remove trees from Aspen Mountain.
Skico has notified the U.S. Forest Service it will fund “the planting of several hundred seedling trees per acre on approximately 200 acres of land associated with the Lake Christine Fire,” according to new information submitted to Pitkin County.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams confirmed Tuesday that Skico officials made the offer to help with replanting.
About 8,500 acres of national forest burned last summer in the Lake Christine Fire, which charred more than 12,500 acres total. The Forest Service is monitoring the recovery to determine where trees should be replanted.
“Some areas you get great regeneration and some areas need a little help,” Fitzwilliams said.
Skico’s offer comes after the company took heat from conservationists for its plan to cut trees on 106 acres within the proposed Pandora’s expansion area on Aspen Mountain. Skico wants to add a chairlift and 180 acres of new terrain on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. The area, known as Pandora’s, has been used by “sidecountry” skiers and snowboarders for decades.
The ski area expansion has been approved by the White River National Forest. Now, the Pitkin County commissioners are reviewing the Pandora’s expansion and an updated master plan for Aspen Mountain.
As part of an Amended and Restated Master Plan submitted to the county, Skico said a maximum of 40% of the trees will be removed from 104 acres identified for gladed or tree skiing in Pandora’s.
Another 76 acres will be cut for the creation of standard ski trails. That boosts the total to 106 acres where trees will be cut, according to Skico’s plan. About 4,240 tons of timber will be removed.
Skico defended the tree removal by contending that a dense forest doesn’t equal a healthy forest.
“A healthy forest contains a diverse mix of tree species, ages and densities,” the amended plan said. “Thinning the forest is a prescribed measure of improving forest health as prescribed in the 2012 Forest Health Project Environmental Assessment.”
Thinning glades and leaving tree islands provides multiple benefits, the plan continued. The remaining trees gain room and nutrients to grow. There is more wildlife habitat for foraging, grazing and browsing. It reduces the fuel load for wildfires. It spurs more diverse vegetative growth.
To sweeten the pot even more, Skico came up with the idea of planting trees on Basalt Mountain.
Fitzwilliams said the Forest Service intends to put a salvage sale out for bid this winter. An undetermined amount of terrain will be opened for a logging company to remove salvageable timber. Some of the 8,500 acres that burned on Basalt Mountain is too steep for logging. In addition, the Forest Service won’t allow logging that would compact soils in high severity burn areas. However, the salvage sale will be valuable on a portion of the burn scar. Once the logging is completed, those acres will be reseeded.
“Those are areas we would like to reforest,” Fitzwilliams said. That’s where Skico’s assistance will come in, several years down the road.
The timber cutting and tree thinning is one of several issues that were identified for further discussion by the county commissioners. The board will renew the review of Aspen Mountain Master Plan at a meeting that starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the county commissioners’ meeting room. The county planning department staff recommended the discussion be continued to Aug. 28 for a vote.
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