Blowdown may mean timber sale
Timber and bug experts have begun an intensive study of a giant blowdown of Engelmann spruce and aspen trees, estimated to cover 600 to 700 acres, in the headwaters of North Thompson Creek.
The blowdown occurred on the night of Aug. 11, during a week of intensely rainy and windy weather. It was discovered the following day by Alexis Engasser, a forestry technician who was cruising timber for a summer job.
She’d been up in the Baylor Park area the day before and everything was fine. When she returned on Aug. 12, it was obvious something big had happened. Since then, Forest Service staffers have been trying to size up the blowdown, which occurred over a scattered area of at least three square miles.
When high winds hit the forests around Baylor Park, they uprooted 80-foot spruce trees and snapped off spruce, fir and aspen trees in a swath a half-mile wide and four to five miles long.
“We think the storm came through between these two ridges, which acted like a funnel and speeded up the wind,” said George Foley, timber manager for the White River National Forest, as he stood near the top of a long meadow that runs down the center of Baylor Park.
“Then as it got further down, the valley opened up and the high winds dissipated,” he said.
Trees on either side of the meadow were mowed down and now lie in a dense jumble of broken branches, splintered trunks and pine boughs that are still green, supple and loaded with cones.
Some tree trunks were snapped off at ground level, others broke at weak points 10 to 40 feet off the ground. Other trees were uprooted entirely.
The Baylor Park blowdown is in Pitkin County southwest of Carbondale, high up Four Mile Road, about a mile and a half north of Haystack Gate and near the Garfield County line.
In a related blowdown of about five acres farther down Four Mile Road, spruce trees were laid flat in every direction.
Scattered patches of blown- down timber can be seen from the road above Four Mile Park, but the big blowdown is accessible only by a rough, two-mile, four-wheel-drive road, No. 302, and then a half-mile walk north into the park.
At its west end, the meadow rises into a stand of timber that eventually leads to Reservoir Park on the headwaters of East Divide Creek.On Wednesday, Bob Kapushion, timber management assistant for the Forest Service, was checking out reports of more blowdowns in the Reservoir Park area. Beetle threat For foresters like Foley, the blowdown poses a big threat to the health of surrounding forests.
That’s because biologists believe that populations of the spruce beetle, a native bug that attacks weakened Engelmann spruce trees, can reach epidemic numbers by feeding on downed timber.
Healthy trees fend off the beetle by “pitching them out,” Foley said. The trees exude sap in the hole the beetles bore into the tree and push the insects back out.
But sap no longer flows in downed trees, so spruce beetles will feed on the trees for about two years while reproducing wildly. Then they’ll swarm out of the blowdown and fly into green timber.
Foley said if the winds are right, the swarming beetles can be carried for miles.
The huge spruce beetle kill on the Flat Tops, which spread over 250,000 acres in the late 1940s and early 1950s, has been blamed on a one-quarter acre blowdown on Clinetop Mesa, Foley said.
Entomologists studying the massive October 1998 blowdown of 14,000 acres on the Routt National Forest have found that spruce beetles feeding on downed timber were ready to swarm after just a year.
The Forest Service has offered nine salvage sales in the non-wilderness parts of the Routt blowdown, and forester Gary Roper said the sales are expected to yield 30.8 million board-feet of lumber.
Some forest management will be needed in Baylor Park, Foley said, or a similar epidemic could arise in this area as well.
He said the blowdown could be offered as a timber sale or burned over. What’s more likely is a combination. He estimated that a sale could yield 2 million to 3 million board-feet.
Such a sale would not make money for the Forest Service, Foley said. It will be hard, dangerous work for a logging company to untangle the mess, and access roads would have to stay out of the wetland meadows of Baylor Park.
In more scattered and remote parts of the blowdown, where there are just a few downed spruce trees far from existing roads, the Forest Service may hire technicians to peel the bark off.
Foley said Forest Service entomologists Roy Mask and Tom Eager from Gunnison visited the blowdown Tuesday to assess the situation.
Decisions on how to handle the blowdown will be made by Sopris District Ranger Kevin Riordan, who will assign an interdisciplinary team to analyze the project. The team will also decide whether the forest will need to be replanted.
Meanwhile, Foley expects more trees to blow down in the Baylor Park area when storms move through.
In forests, trees count on their neighbors for protection from wind.
“This stuff will continue to unravel for a while, until it becomes wind-firm,” Foley said.
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