The San Juan National Forest is seeking public comment on a proposal to cut down mature aspens in an effort to improve forest diversity and sustainability in the Dolores Ranger District.
The Dolores Aspen Landscape Vegetation Management project area is about 20 miles northeast of Dolores. Proposed treatment areas are in the vicinity of Hillside Drive, Orphan Butte, Lone Cone, Cottonwood Creek and Beef Pasture.
The proposal identifies a roughly 8,000-acre analysis area and proposes treating mature aspen stands on 4,000 to 6,000 acres within the area.
The project seeks improve the age-class distribution of aspen groves to maximize the benefits for a variety of users and ecological benefits.
Aspen stands provide high quality summer range for domestic livestock and habitat for some wildlife species. Aspen groves can serve as living firebreaks and are important for recreational and aesthetic reasons, according to the project’s public scoping documents.
Aspen is a fine-grained, light, soft hardwood. The Dolores Ranger District’s aspen management program has been in place since the 1940s, primarily to supply local businesses that utilize aspen for its products.
According to project documents, there is an overabundance of mature aspen stands and an under-representation of middle-aged and young aspen across the district.
The goal is to create an intermixed mosaic of aspen age classes using a coppice clearcut method to stimulate regeneration of aspen.
This approach is intended to enhance forest resilience to future natural disturbances and improve habitat diversity, while also providing desired forest products. Temporary openings created by coppice clearcuts would be variable in size and shape. Small groups of trees would be retained in clumps adjacent to streams and for wildlife habitat.
These treatments are intended to create vigorous, dense areas of young trees, and initial regeneration levels are expected to range between the desired levels of 5,000 and 20,000 aspen sprouts per acre. The proposal would treat about 4,000 to 6,000 acres of mature aspen-dominated forest within the 8,000-acre project analysis area.
The project works to maintain the resiliency of forest ecosystems in an effort to increase protection against epidemic insect and disease outbreaks.
There is a need to reduce damage and mortality to aspen stands in the area caused by root disease, ink-spot fungus, cankers and sudden aspen decline, according to the proposal.
“When aspen areas with some disease issues are logged before the entire stand is infected, the regrowth is much more robust, so we want to be proactive,” said David Casey, a forester with the San Juan National Forest.
When there is minimal disturbance, such as from wildfires, mature aspen stands tend to dominate, blocking the sun from reaching the ground and limiting the next generation.
“By logging the mature aspen, we are mimicking the natural disturbance in the landscape, causing a sprouting reaction of new aspen trees,” Casey said.
The method of implementation could entail the award of several contracts to qualified businesses using open competitive bidding. The form of these contracts might be a timber sale or a stewardship contract.
How to commentThe 30-day scoping comment period began Oct. 22 and ends on Nov. 22. Electronic comments can be submitted through the comment form on the project webpage. Comments also may be submitted by means of written comment via the U.S. Postal Service or hand-delivered, facsimile, by telephone or in person at Dolores Ranger District 29211, Colorado Highway 184, 81323. The phone number is 970-882-7296, and the fax number is 970-882-6841. Comments should include your name and postal address, project title (Dolores Aspen Vegetation Management) and signature or other verification of identity upon request. Comments received in response to this initial request, including names, addresses and any other information provided with the comments will be considered a part of the public record.