State plans logging for Basalt Mtn. | AspenTimes.com
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State plans logging for Basalt Mtn.

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The face of Basalt Mountain is about to undergo major reconstructive surgery.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has scheduled a major forest thinning project on a 100-acre plot above Lake Christine that will start in the next few weeks.

As soon as weather and other conditions allow, a Grand Junction-based logging firm will begin removing most of the trees from the 100-acre area on state land north of Lake Christine. Most of the ground cover will be removed as well, and when the work is complete there will be just five trees per acre.

“It’s going to look different when it’s done. It will be pretty visible from the Emma area and looking up from downvalley. It will be interesting to see what the public thinks after it’s done,” said Doug Farris, a Carbondale-area resident and logger who unsuccessfully bid to work on the project.

Farris, who has been logging in this area and around Colorado for decades, estimates that there are currently about 200 trees on each acre of land.

“It’s not going to be a clear cut, it’s going to be a mosaic,” said Kelly Wood, the officer who oversees the Lake Christine Wildlife Area for the Division of Wildlife.

Wood did concede, however, that the operation will mean a radically different look for that section of Basalt Mountain, which is northwest of downtown Basalt. She and her colleagues have been trying to get the word out about the logging project, so the public is not surprised once it begins.

“It’s just like wild land fires. For so long people have had negative connotations around them, and when they hear the word ‘logging’ they also have negative connotations,” Wood said.

But the state maintains the work is necessary to restore wildlife habitat and protect rural subdivisions in the area from wildfire.

“Pinon and juniper trees suck up a lot of water,” Wood said. “We’re trying to get the grasses and other food for deer and elk back in that area.”

Wood said the contractor will use a large, four-wheeled vehicle known as a HydroAx to cut down the trees. Another piece of equipment will turn the wood into small chips that will be scattered across the ground, which, as they decay, will fertilize underlying soils.

A number of trees in the area have been marked with blue spray paint around their trunks, according to Tom Newland, who lives in the Aspen Junction neighborhood that shares a property line with the Lake Christine Wildlife Area. He said he noticed the markings a couple of weeks ago during one of his daily lunchtime walks on Basalt Mountain.

“It kind of concerns me, especially the large trees they have circled, it’s a real nice area we hike in,” Newland said.

In fact, Wood explained, the trees with blue markings are not marked for destruction. Rather, they signify the border of the cutting area.

Wood said the logging plan is seen as an alternative to the natural method for clearing small trees and underbrush from the forest – wildfire. With a number of homes bordering the wildlife refuge, allowing wildfire to do its job is no longer an option.

“This is another method other than burning to do similar habitat improvement,” Wood said.

“I think five trees per acre is awfully thin,” Farris, the logger, said.

He also expressed concern that the wood chips left behind may end up being so thick that they would smother any growth trying to get through. He said a similar project in Boulder County did not generate the growth that was desired because there was too much material on the ground.

Wood said the state forester and her colleagues at the Division of Wildlife have signed off on the thinning and the plan to leave the chipped wood on the ground.

The HydroAx moves through the terrain on four large rubber tires. Wood said it doesn’t produce sparks the way gas-powered chain saws have been known to do, making it safer to use near homes. No new roads are planned, Wood said. The contractor will use existing roads and trails, and will have an increasingly easy time moving through the forest as it is thinned.

Wood expects work to start as soon as the weather clears up. It should not extend into summer.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com


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