Ophir Mountain proposal near Frisco draws conflicted crowd | PostIndependent.com

Ophir Mountain proposal near Frisco draws conflicted crowd

Janice Kurbjun
Summit County Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

FRISCO, Colorado – A U.S. Forest Service proposal to clear dead and dying trees on and around Ophir Mountain attracted some controversy at an open house held Thursday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.

With so many trees affected by the mountain pine beetle in that area, selective clear cutting – or removing significant numbers of dead trees while attempting to leave healthy spruce and Douglas Fir behind – is the method of choice.

During his presentation, U.S. Forest Service forester Brett Crary said that, of the Dillon Ranger District’s 313,000 acres, approximately 79,000 are dead or dying due to the pine beetle epidemic. Many of those affected acres are in wilderness areas, Dillon Ranger District District Ranger Jan Cutts said.

Ophir Mountain has received special attention because it includes many areas of wildland-urban interface and it has existing roads, Crary said. He added that it’s also a manageable area to apply funds to mitigate effects of fallen trees on revegetation, watersheds, recreation, power lines, scenery, invasive species, wildfires and negative effects on wildlife. The wood harvest could also be useful to local business, and it could help create a manageable forest in the future.

A long list of resource specialists worked on the initial proposal, including those in botany, soils, fisheries, hydrology, archeology, engineering, forestry and many more fields. Forest Service officials also met with representatives from around the county, such as the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and Red, White and Blue Fire/Rescue in Breckenridge.

Thursday’s meeting was part of implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires involving the public and disclosing the effects of the proposal.

Once comments are received, the project moves into an environmental analysis stage in November. A public objection period is slated for February 2011. Using information and comments gathered, a final decision is to be made by late next spring or early in the summer. Work would begin shortly thereafter. There isn’t a project price until a final decision is made, but Crary said initial estimates sit at about $1,000 per acre (on the low end of the spectrum).

In a room of approximately a dozen interested citizens, a discussion arose about how to appropriately apply available funds.

Nancy Savidge suggested clear cutting would recreate the existing problem of having a same-age lodgepole pine forest that could be susceptible to pine beetle epidemics in the future. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to focus on creating healthy forests by thinning 30-year-old growth from 1980s clear cuts, she said.

“Why can’t we set aside funds to create healthy forests and prevent lodgepole from overtaking again?” Savidge said.

Don Cacace spoke clearly against clear-cutting when he said: “You’ll clear out the valley between Frisco and Breckenridge. … This just seems like the nuclear option.”

He raised questions of scenic appeal after the clear cuts.

“Right now, we live in a national forest. [After this,] we’re going to live in a national meadow,” he said.

Crary said that, because lodgepole pine regenerate through stand fires, clear cuts are the Forest Service mitigation method that best mimics the natural order.

He added that Forest Service officials believe it’s more urgent to prevent “jackstraw,” or fallen timber, which can be dangerous for recreationists, too thick for fire prevention personnel to work in, and can pose threats to watersheds, wildlife habitat, movement and more. It’s also more cost-effective to clear many trees from an area than to thin. And as far as impacts to the land, repeated access to tree stands during thinning might cause more damage than good, Crary added.

Kyle McKenzie spoke in support of the selective clear cuts over forest thinning.

“Fifteen to 20 years from now, it’s going to be better off,” he said. “There will be 3- to 4-foot green versus 60-foot gray.”

Colorado State University Summit County Extension director Dan Schroder also spoke in favor of the plan, saying the area would have a “new aesthetic” in a continually changing forest.

“It won’t become forest again in our lifetimes and that’s devastating to us,” he said. “But our grandchildren will see it again.”

Other concerns raising less discussion were about the construction of 5 miles of new, temporary roads (out of about 11.3 miles of haul routes) and the ability to “obliterate” them, as is proposed. Questions about wildlife habitat, allowing jackstraw to simply decompose and enforcement of the logging contract also arose.

“There’s not going to be no effects from logging … We are trying to minimize them,” Crary said, such as having Forest Service supervisors in place to monitor progress, doing studying impacts to wildlife in the environmental impact statement and more.


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