Feds intensify tree pile-burning, racing snowmelt in forests
The Denver Post
Federal burn crews in Colorado forests, racing against early snowmelt, have intensified culling and are on pace to break records this year by igniting more than 40,000 piles of chopped trees.
The U.S. Forest Service has declared this essential — to protect proliferating houses built in the woods and to try to restore forest health.
But studies show cutting, dragging, heaping and burning trees as a strategy may also hurt the forests it is intended to help.
The yellow-clad crew members lug diesel-gas drip torches up and down mountainsides. Each pre-positioned pile poofs into smoke and orange flames. The crews count on winter snow to keep flames from spreading.
“So this is one hazard, the overhead powerline. Don’t light anything underneath it,” Forest Service burn boss Tim Egan instructed last week, 10 miles southeast of Estes Park, mobilizing a team bolstered by AmeriCorps volunteers.
The problem is that intense heat from pile-burning can melt soil, leading to reduced absorption of water and erosion, said University of Colorado ecology and evolutionary biology professor Bill Bowman, director of the school’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research mountain station.
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