Forest Service proposes project to help Basalt Mountain heal from Lake Christine Fire | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service proposes project to help Basalt Mountain heal from Lake Christine Fire

The U.S. Forest Service is planning a multi-year project to remove hazardous trees left on Basalt Mountain when the Lake Christine Fire swept through in July and to rehabilitate some of the areas.

While the fire charred a total of 12,500 acres, about 8,500 acres was on national forest. The remainder was on state or private lands. A Forest Service assessment determined that a moderate to severe crown fire caused widespread mortality across most vegetation types in some areas of Basalt Mountain. The agency wants to undertake the Basalt Mountain Salvage and Rehabilitation project in response. A public open house describing the public will be held Dec. 11.

The project would feature removal of roadside trees along Basalt Mountain Road, which is popular with recreationalists, as well as Cattle Creek Road. It would include creation of defensible space around eight historic cabins that were threatened in the Upper Cattle Creek drainage by the fire. Burned and partially burned trees that can be used as logs or biomass would be harvested. Potential tree planting would be undertaken in the future to speed recovery of areas most impacted, according to a project description by the White River National Forest.

"We would like to address the impacts from the fire as soon as possible and take actions within the burned area to ensure long-term and reliable public access," acting Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner said in a statement. "For safety reasons, we want to remove hazard trees along roadways and harvest merchantable trees in places already identified as suitable for these types of management actions."

Basalt Mountain is a popular recreation area for midvalley residents.

Basalt Mountain Road is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, dirt bikers and four-wheelers. The Cattle Creek, Mill Creek and Ditch trails are popular non-motorized routes. Portions of all the routes suffered extensive damage from the fire, according to firsthand accounted.

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There are large swaths along Mill Creek Trail and Basalt Mountain, for example, where the understory is wiped out and a barren landscape with charred tree trunks remains.

The agency lifted a closure of the fire scarred area this fall but warned visitors to beware of standing dead trees called snags that could fall at any time.

The Forest Service project envisions possible tree removal across about 2,800 acres. It would range from clear-cutting to targeting individual trees.

"Islands of unburned trees would be left as a seed source and wildlife security cover," said a document called a Notice of Proposed Action.

There would be a clear-cut within 200 feet of either side of the Basalt Mountain and Cattle Creek roads. A portion of the popular mountain bike route called the Cattle Creek Loop or The Big Loop falls within the treatment area.

The Forest Service would evaluate 6,500 acres — including the area targeted for vegetation management — for natural recovery and re-establishment of forest vegetation. Trees could be planted in areas slow to recover.

The Mill Creek Trail is not included in the project because it is in a designated roadless area, Warner explained. However, the Forest Service envisions removing downed timber from the trail next year as part of its trail work, he said.

"We have been talking to the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association about a partnership," Warner said. No agreement has been reached yet on assistance that the trail advocacy group could provide.

The hazard tree removal project would require use of at least 5 miles of temporary roads and possibly more. All temporary routes would be "obliterated" after the project, the notice said.

The Forest Service will perform an Environmental Assessment of the proposal. Public comment will be collected and evaluated. If the project moves ahead, the removal of hazard trees would occur over one to three years, creation of defensible space around the cabins would take one to five years, salvage operations would take two to eight years and three planting would extend six to 15 years. Natural recovery will take five to 20 years.

Complete information on the project can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55031

scondon@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO

What: Public open house on Basalt Mountain project

When: Tuesday, Dec. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Where: Basalt Regional Library

Purpose: The Forest Service is proposing the Basalt Mountain Salvage and Rehabilitation Project on the portions affected by the Lake Christine Fire. This is an opportunity learn details of the project and ask questions.

Comment: Electronic comments can be submitted to https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=55031

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