Major projects planned to improve forest health | AspenTimes.com

Major projects planned to improve forest health

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

U.S. Forest Service

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Details of a sweeping plan to enhance wildlife habitat and reduce wildfire risk on 50,000 acres of the White River National Forest in the Roaring Fork Valley have been unveiled by the U.S. Forest Service.The Forest Service wants to use prescribed burns, mechanical removal of vegetation and tree cutting over a decade to create more age diversity in trees and vegetation. That will improve the foraging and living conditions for wildlife and songbirds, according to the agency’s description of the project. Elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep are the big game that would directly benefit from the work.The Forest Service worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to determine where projects would be most beneficial.The projects are scattered in 24 “treatment units” scattered throughout the forest in five general areas: Woody Creek, Basalt, the Fryingpan and Crystal River valleys and Glenwood Springs. The single biggest project will be in the Collins Creek area of Woody Creek, where almost 10,000 acres will be treated.Another big project targeted to benefit big game is planned on 7,349 acres in the Cattle Creek area of Basalt Mountain. In other areas, projects will improve habitat for bighorn sheep and raptors.No projects are in wilderness, which has special protection, but about half of the acres targeted for treatment are roadless areas. The plan calls for 24,000 acres of prescribed burns in roadless areas and 2,000 acres of burns with mechanical treatment. “There is no tree cutting proposed in roadless areas,” the project description says.Environmentalists are generally opposed to any type of activity in roadless areas, but it is unknown at this point if there will be opposition to the plan.Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the project is long overdue because the wildlife habitat’s quality is poor. He said the Forest Service will reach out to interested parties in coming weeks to discuss the project in greater detail.”As private land development continues and native vegetation on private lands continues to be degraded or lost, National Forest land serves an increasingly important role as wildlife habitat,” says a Forest Service document. “Providing quality wildlife habitat on National Forests helps manage wildlife populations and helps retain big game on public lands longer throughout the year.”If the proposal is approved, some of the prescribed burns could be undertaken in the fall of 2011 or the following spring. Mechanical treatments that don’t involve fire would start next summer.Details of the proposal can be found on the White River National Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver, then navigate to Land & Resources Management/Projects.In addition, the Forest Service intends to hold an open house on the project in early January, according to Phil Nyland, team leader on the project. Technically, the public comment period will expire at the end of December, but it will likely be extended to allow people to comment after the open house, he said.The project has short-term implications for air quality during controlled burns and visual effects from vegetation removal. Public land managers hope concerned citizens will realize that wildlife benefits outweigh those issues.Written comments can be sent to: Scott Fitzwilliams c/o Phil Nyland, P.O. Box 309, Carbondale, CO 81623; or faxed to: (970) 963-1012; or e-mailed to comments-rocky-mountain-white-river-westzone@fs.ed.us.scondon@aspentimes.com

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