Logging set to begin on Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Chain saw-toting loggers could begin cutting beetle-infested trees on Smuggler Mountain as soon as Friday, as an experimental project to slow the spread of the insects gets under way.
A contract for the logging work, including the cutting of 202 infested lodgepole pines and hauling felled trees via helicopter, has been awarded to Ken’s Tree Service and Ken Tacker Trucking Inc. of Carbondale, according to Chris Forman, forester for the city of Aspen.
The helicopter will carry trees to a central site on Smuggler for chipping; the chips will be trucked down Smuggler Mountain Road. The logging work will cost about $70,000, Forman said.
While trees are being cut, a crew of three or four individuals working under a separate contract will staple packets of verbenone to various uninfested trees in an area covering about 130 acres. That effort, including the cost of the product, will total nearly $40,000, he said.
Verbenone is a pheremone that fools adult, mountain pine beetles into leaving healthy trees alone, sending the message that trees are already infested. Not every tree will be outfitted with a packet; instead, they’ll be affixed to trees in a grid pattern that will hopefully ensure protection.
The verbenone treatment is expected to be repeated annually for some number of years. The packets’ effectiveness wanes over time; they’ll be removed each fall, Forman said.
The city and Pitkin County will split $45,000 of the total cost of the work, while the conservation group For the Forest will cover the rest. For the Forest executive director John Bennett, a former Aspen mayor, pitched the effort to slow the advance of the destructive beetles to the city and county as an experiment. The work will take place on about 250 acres of open space on Smuggler that is owned jointly by the city and county.
Signs will be erected on Smuggler Mountain Road and other trails that access the area, informing users about what is going on and why.
The work, which must be finished by July 17 under the terms of the contract, will be under way shortly.
“I don’t expect any trees to be hitting the ground until Friday or Monday,” said Forman, who planned to meet with the contractor on the mountain Thursday.
All of the trees will be cut before a helicopter is brought in to pick up trees felled deep in the forest. The chipping will occur on land that is currently closed to the public – the site of the late Wilk Wilkinson’s compound on Smuggler before he sold the property as open space.
For the most part, hikers and mountain bikers should experience only minor inconveniences while the work occurs, Forman said. But when the helicopter is flying, the open space will be closed to recreational use. Use of the road as far as the viewing platform may be possible even when the helicopter is operating, he said.
The helicopter work may require only two days, Forman said, but its ability to fly depends on the weather. Stormy or windy conditions will ground it, and, the hotter the temperatures, the less carrying capacity the chopper will have, he said.
Flaggers will be stationed on Smuggler roads and trails to regulate hiker and biker movement in areas where logging is taking place.
“Except when the helicopter is flying, people are going to experience some delays on some trails – that’s about it,” Forman said.
Forman said he plans to get the word out in the media so people will know what days the open space will be closed for helicopter operations.
Every lodgepole pine on the city/county open space has been examined, and the 202 trees to be felled represent all the trees that are invested with beetle larvae, according to Forman. The plan is to destroy those trees before adult beetles take flight and infest other trees.
Lodgepole pines on the open space will again be inspected this fall to determine whether new infestations have occurred, he said.
“One of the key pieces is the monitoring at the end to gauge our success,” he said.
As lodgepole pines within the surrounding national forest on Smuggler become infested, the open space will be monitored with an eye toward the changing conditions on the mountain as a whole, according to Forman.
Mountain pine beetles have left dead, rust-colored trees over large swaths of Colorado, and experts predict the mountains surrounding Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley will increasingly show the impact of the beetles, as well, though a greater diversity of tree species locally will help protect the forests from a massive die-off.
Smuggler, flanking Aspen’s northeast side, boasts spruce, firs, aspen and Gambel oak in addition to lodgepole pine, Forman noted.
“We’re not going to lose everything,” he said. “That’s the part that I don’t want people to lose sight of.”
If this summer’s experiment is successful, it may not lose all its lodgepoles, either.
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