Forest Service wants input on timber harvest in Pitco |

Forest Service wants input on timber harvest in Pitco

Jeremy Heiman

White River National Forest officials are taking public comments on a proposal to thin timber and salvage downed trees in a remote area of Pitkin County.

The timber removal would take place in an area where freak winds flattened trees on about 1,500 acres in August 1999. The area, in extreme northwestern Pitkin County, is now known as the Baylor Park Blowdown. The Forest Service will be taking comments until Monday, Jan. 29.

Forest Service officials believe both salvage logging of the blowdown and thinning of live trees outside the blowdown area are necessary to prevent an infestation of spruce bark beetles. They fear the beetles could multiply quickly in the vulnerable downed trees and spread to trees in a considerably larger area.

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. The project area is almost entirely in Pitkin County.

The Forest Service hopes to have a timber contractor on the job sometime in July, said Rifle District Ranger Dave Silvieus, who led the effort to create the draft environmental impact statement. The final EIS is expected by mid-March, followed by an appeal period, Silvieus said.

The Aspen Wilderness Workshop, an Aspen-based environmental group, opposes the timber sale.

“If they want to cut timber, they should limit it to the blowdown itself,” said Beverly Compton, executive director of the group.

She said the Forest Service will probably allow the logging contractor to cut the largest trees in the thinning process, thereby making the remaining trees more vulnerable to another blowdown.

Compton said her group believes a beetle infestation is a natural occurrence.

“We want to dispel this notion that beetles are bad,” Compton said. When beetles reduce the number of spruce trees, aspens and subalpine firs can move into the area. “They help shape our landscape,” she said.

“We just see it as a false front to go in and cut live trees, on the pretext that they can control nature,” Compton continued.

Silvieus conceded that forest management could be more hands-off in this case, but said the Forest Service also must produce timber.

“What she’s saying is very true,” he said. “But our Congressional mandate also allows us to provide wood products.”

A release from the workshop indicates the group is also opposed to the construction of roads for the project.

Construction of the proposed roads would be allowed because they would not be in a roadless area, Silvieus said.

Timber removal is also proposed on 23 acres of the Baldy Mountain Roadless Area, but Silvieus said timber removal in that area would be done by helicopter or skidding tractors with wide tracks, to reduce pressure on the ground.

Removal of the timber from the Baylor Park Blowdown would take between three and five years, Silvieus said, with an estimated 10 to 15 log trucks per day passing through Glenwood Springs five days a week.

The DEIS contains four alternative projects, Silvieus pointed out, and public comments might steer the agency toward one that calls for removal of less timber.

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