Basalt Mountain logging delayed; public to weigh in
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A plan to log most of the timber in a 100-acre parcel of state-owned land on Basalt Mountain has been put on hold.
Officials with the Colorado State Forest Service and Division of Wildlife decided late last week to delay cutting thousands of trees in the Lake Christine Wilderness Area until December, when it is less likely to spark an invasion of bark beetles.
“We talked it over and decided the research indicates that the bugs can be attracted to areas where there is cutting, chipping and pruning,” said Kelly Rogers, assistant district forester for the state Forest Service.
The draw for the beetles is the resin that is kicked into the air when pinon pine trees are cut down and their sap is released. Once they invade an area, they can devastate live forests surrounding the area where the logging occurs, Rogers said.
If the original plan had been implemented, everyone involved admits that the section of Basalt Mountain above Lake Christine, northwest of downtown Basalt, would look markedly different. In some areas it would even appear that the mountain had been clear cut.
The Division of Wildlife plans to take advantage of the extra time to solicit public comment on the plan. Pat Tucker, the division manager who oversees this region, admitted the public has not been given adequate opportunity to review the current logging plan, which was originally scheduled to begin this month.
The plan calls for thinning the forest to about five trees per acre. According to a local logger who bid on the project, there are now as many as 200 trees per acre.
Tucker expects an open house to be scheduled sometime in the next 30 to 45 days so the public can review the plan and comment. A midvalley location has yet to be determined.
“What it means for us is we’ll go back and revisit the project and make sure it’s still what we want to do,” Tucker said.
The purpose of the work is twofold. From the state Forest Service’s perspective, it is an opportunity to create a safe zone between wild lands and developed areas. Minimal amounts of vegetation would radically decrease the likelihood of a wildfire destroying homes and property.
From the Division of Wildlife’s perspective, the logging plan is meant to enhance,not destroy habitat.
“Our property is becoming more and more important for wildlife in the fast-growing Roaring Fork Valley, especially around Basalt,” Tucker said.
Radically thinning the forest above the lake will allow grasses, shrubs and berry-producing plants to thrive, creating ideal winter range for local elk and deer populations.
“The number one threat facing wildlife in Colorado is habitat loss, fragmentation and conversion,” Tucker said. “Our property was purchased for wildlife, and we’re trying to manage it the best we can for that purpose.”
Rogers said it was likely that the logging would not start now until sometime in early December, after the ground freezes, the hunting season ends, and the trees to go into a dormant wintertime state with reduced sap flows.
A HydroAx, a four-wheeled mobile machine, would be used to cut all but the tallest trees; other equipment would mulch them on site and spread the wood chips evenly across the ground. The chips will eventually rot and provide nutrition for the type of understory that could eventually support deer, elk and other animals.
Rogers said similar thinning projects in pinon and juniper forests have resulted in the kind of habitat that is hoped for above Lake Christine.
“There’s a good enough seed bank laying dormant that, plus the mulch, would allow it to grow without seeding,” Tucker said. “The native stuff that everyone believes is up there should do the job.”
The first area likely to be affected is a section of the forest close to the Aspen Junction neighborhood.
Rogers said the plan is to begin in a small area and see how things develop. If the forest appears to be too thin, or if the mulching plan leaves too much wood on the ground, the treatment will be adjusted.
The Aspen Times incorrectly reported yesterday that trees above Aspen Junction that have been marked with blue paint represent the border of the entire area to be logged. In fact, they delineate the smaller area that is to be cut first to see how well the plan is working. Rogers promised adjustments to the work plan would be made to suit the best interests of the forest and surrounding area.
“Five trees per acre is a rough guideline,” he continued. “Five trees per acre is not very effective in leaving a forested appearance. We may have to alter that upward, substantially, and we’re worried about the amount of material that will be left on the ground.”
Sloan Shoemaker from the Aspen Wilderness Workshop said his group could get behind the logging plan provided it’s done well, and doesn’t leave so much mulch that it stifles the habitat development that the Division of Wildlife says it wants to see there.
“We support it because it’s immediately adjacent to communities at risk,” Shoemaker said.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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