Forest restoration work continues in Hunter Creek Valley | AspenTimes.com

Forest restoration work continues in Hunter Creek Valley

Staff report

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), Pitkin County, the City of Aspen, and the White River National Forest will undertake a 30-acre oakbrush restoration in the Hunter Creek Valley beginning Tuesday.

The restoration is part of the Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan, a 20-year collaborative stewardship plan that outlines improvements to forest health, wildlife habitat, recreation, and education opportunities for 4,861 acres of federal land in Aspen's wildland-urban interface. The work accomplished over the next few weeks will help prepare the area for subsequent projects, including the prescribed fire planned for spring 2016 (dependent on appropriate conditions).

In the absence of natural fire events, the oakbrush ecosystem (which includes Gambel oak, chokecherry, and serviceberry) in Hunter Creek Valley is over-mature and no longer produces quality forage and acorns for wildlife, according to a statement released Thursday by the participating organizations. It is also densely overgrown, exacerbating the potential for catastrophic wildfires and posing a significant risk to neighboring communities. These ecosystems have a short natural fire return interval, meaning they thrive when they burn fairly frequently. However, it is impractical to allow natural ignitions to burn in areas adjacent to communities. In lieu of this, land managers have two options for oakbrush management in the wildland-urban interface: mechanical treatments and prescribed fire.

"By utilizing a variety of treatments, including mastications and prescribed fire, we're able to accomplish landscape-scale restoration while reducing catastrophic wildfire risk to this high-use area and to neighboring communities," said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

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