Aspen Wilderness Workshop rips blowdown logging plan |

Aspen Wilderness Workshop rips blowdown logging plan

Jeremy Heiman

The Aspen Wilderness Workshop is highly critical of a proposal to log a large acreage in the northwest corner of Pitkin County.

To convey its opinions to the U.S. Forest Service the group submitted a 20-page document prepared by Sloan Shoemaker, the workshop’s conservation director. The comments are on a plan to remove timber from an area where freak winds flattened trees on about 1,500 acres of forest land in August 1999. The area is now known as the Baylor Park Blowdown.

In a draft environmental impact statement released Dec. 15, the Forest Service proposes logging about 3,400 acres and constructing about 6.5 miles of new permanent roads. Blowdown areas cover 1,500 acres in Mesa, Garfield and Pitkin counties, but the project area is almost entirely in Pitkin County.

The blowdown is in patches, ranging from a few acres to a few hundred. While some trees were uprooted, most were broken off, leaving stumps standing chest high, head high and taller.

In some of these patches, a few trees were spared. In others, everything is flattened.

In some patches, the trees all lie parallel, dropped by a single blast of wind. Other patches show curving patterns, giving evidence of a wind that swirled through the forest.

The fallen trees are surrounded by greater areas of standing timber, much of which is proposed for thinning, to remove usable saw logs.

The wilderness workshop asserts the logging proposal will increase fire danger, will make the forest more vulnerable to further wind damage and will not accomplish its stated purpose of preventing an insect infestation. Further, the Forest Service is using the possibility of a spruce bark beetle infestation as an excuse to log more than just the downed trees, according to the workshop.

“[T]he Forest Service reacts to spruce beetle events like that anticipated in the Baylor Park area as an invading alien phenomenon requiring a hysterical response that justifies huge logging operations,” Shoemaker writes.

Spruce beetles have played a central role in the evolution of the forest, he continues, so it appears that the agency has misrepresented the beetles’ role.

Trees killed in a blowdown are a favorable breeding ground for spruce bark beetles, because the trees’ natural defense, sap, is absent. The beetles can multiply rapidly in the tangled deadfall, flying in large numbers to nearby live timber the next season.

But such an infestation is not a forest health problem, said Richard Compton, mapping director for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop. Compton noted that an area of old beetle-killed timber on the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs is now the area most favored by wildlife in the Flat Tops area.

At any rate, Shoemaker continues, the beetles have already had a full season to breed in the downed timber, and will take flight in July, when the proposed logging operation is just getting under way.

“[E]ven using the Forest Service’s own logic,” he writes, “it appears the timing of the treatments is too far behind the curve to achieve the desired results.”

Removal of timber from the Baylor Park area is expected to take three to five years.

Rifle District Ranger Dave Silvieus, who led the effort to create the logging plan, said there’s an ongoing dispute as to how effectively spruce bark beetles can be controlled.

“There’s probably a good argument that says some beetles will escape and kill trees,” he said. “But on the other hand, part of our charge is to produce wood products.”

The Baylor Park area was designated in the current White River National Forest management plan as an area where timber is to be removed, he said.

The workshop’s comments contend that thinning the forest as proposed increases fire danger. Opening up the forest canopy allows in more sunlight, which has a drying effect. Branches stripped from the felled trees also increase the hazard, the group asserts.

Silvieus countered that the Forest Service would require that branches be burned following the removal of the timber, but didn’t address the effect of drying on the forest.

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