Smuggler Mountain plan calls for logging work
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Logging to improve wildlife habitat and forest health are among the recommendations in a draft 10-year forestry plan for the Smuggler Mountain Open Space near Aspen.
The proposals for 234 acres of open space on Smuggler Mountain, a popular recreation area flanking town, will see scrutiny by both city and Pitkin County officials, as well as the public, in the coming months. If the plan is adopted, the throngs of people who hike and bike up Smuggler will find significant changes under way this summer, when three clearings are proposed to be cut within the lodgepole pine forest on the open space.
“Trees are going to come down, openings created and there are going to be questions,” predicted Stephen Ellsperman, Aspen parks and open space director.
City and county officials adopted a management plan for the open space, purchased jointly by the two governments, in 2008. It called for a detailed inventory of the forest as it exists and a specific plan for the forest itself, which has been the subject of two years of experimentation to save lodgepoles from the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has swept through Colorado and the West.
The draft forest plan calls for a third year of those efforts, on a vastly reduced scale, in combination with tree thinning to improve habitat and begin the process of regenerating the forest. The plan, however, is about more than the beetle battle, Ellsperman stressed.
“It’s an important document to start talking about anything on the forest up there,” he said. “It’s certainly not about the mountain pine beetle exclusively. It’s about forest health.”
At present, much of the open space is blanketed by densely packed, old trees that are more susceptible to disease, and pests like the beetles, than a more diverse forest would be, according to the plan’s author, consulting forestry expert Jeff Webster. Without fire or human disturbance for decades, most of the trees are 90 to 120 years old, he reported. A wider range of ages is necessary for a healthy forest, according to the plan.
Aspens are actually the dominant tree species on the open space itself, and the plan calls for clearing areas of the aspens, as well as lodgepoles and Gambel oak. The work will reduce the fuels that pose a wildfire danger on the mountain, and improve habitat for various animals – there are about 88 different types of birds and 45 species of mammals that either live on the open space or pass through it, according to the plan.
In 2011, the plan calls for creating three openings, each of about three-quarters of an acre, in the lodgepole forest. All three areas are adjacent to the Hunter Creek cutoff – the road into the Hunter Creek Valley that cuts off from Smuggler Mountain Road just below the viewing platform. It’s also an area where several brood trees, infested with the mountain pine beetle, have been pegged for cutting this year, and where other brood trees have been removed in past years.
“It made a lot of sense to create the clearings where we’ve removed a lot of trees already,” said Chris Forman, city forester.
Another three clearings in lodgepole stands would be cut in 2015, according to the plan. Two or three areas within the aspen forest would be cleared in 2013; they have yet to be identified. In the oak shrub areas, two or three areas of one-quarter to three-quarters of an acre would be cut in 2012; others would be cut in 2016. Herbicide could be used on the oak brush, the plan indicates.
The plan calls for monitoring the clearings to judge the success at regenerating the forest and outlines the potential for replanting within the lodgepole clearings.
Though the Smuggler Mountain Open Space has seen logging, with use of a helicopter, to remove beetle-infested trees in each of the past two summers, and the application of verbenone, a pheromone that fools adult beetles into leaving healthy trees alone, no such activity is proposed this year, according to Forman. Both approaches were costly.
Some 250 trees have been cut and hauled from the forest in the past two years, but the beetles appear to be on the wane. About 20 trees are slated to be cut this year; some will be dragged out and some will be left on the forest floor, but stripped of bark to kill the beetle larvae. No helicopter use is planned unless one is available because it’s already doing work locally. And, no verbenone will be used this summer, Forman said.
All of the work planned this year, including the cutting of trees that pose a hazard because they could fall on roads and trails, will cost about $55,000, according to the plan.
Last year’s beetle efforts, including logging and verbenone application, again proved effective, noted a Forest Service researcher who has analyzed the data. The incidence of beetle attacks was at least 50 percent lower than it was in adjacent, untreated stands, she concluded.
On both the open space and the adjacent national forest, however, beetle activity dropped last year, according to Forman.
“The levels have dropped to the point where we don’t see the level of urgency in applying verbenone out there,” he said.
The draft Smuggler forest plan will be presented to the city and county open space boards on March 10 and a public open house will also be scheduled. Public comment is being taken through March 15; the City Council and county commissioners are expected to consider adoption of the plan in April, according to Ellsperman.
City officials say the plan will be posted at http://www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Parks-Trails-Open-Space/Natural-Resources-Forestry/. Comments can be directed to Forman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 429-2026.
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