Area north of Mancos needs treatment for future forest health
By Luke Groskopf
Journal Staff Writer
The U.S. Forest Service is laying the groundwork for a project to enhance forest health near Burnt Ridge, nine miles northeast of Mancos, by clearing 300 acres of mature aspen trees.
Matt Rathbone, a forester with the Dolores Public Lands Office, said intervention is needed to stop conifer species like spruce and fir from crowding out and overtaking the fragile younger aspens.
Aspen groves tend to grow up uniformly, and because they are shade intolerant, saplings are stunted by the shadows cast by their elders. Conifers, meanwhile, thrive in partial shade, so they begin to fill in underneath the mature aspen and eventually displace them.
"We have an overabundance of 80 to 100-year-old mature aspen stands," Rathbond said. "Over time, if nothing else comes into play - like logging or fire - the conifer outlast the aspen and the aspen die off. If you want to preserve aspen in a landscape, you need to get in there and reset the ecological cycle."
The Burnt Ridge proposal involves 13 treatment units ranging from 12-39 acres each. The resulting timber would be sold for commercial use, likely to Montezuma County's two main aspen-wood companies: Western Excelsior in Mancos and Dolores-based Aspen Wall Wood, which installs tongue-in-groove paneling in homes.
Clearing would be done coppice-style, meaning the new trees sprout from the roots instead of seeds or replanted seedlings.
Rathbone said fire mitigation wasn't a top priority, but since aspen are a less flammable wood they can serve as a "natural fuel break."
Several smaller projects could accompany the aspen cutting, including noxious weed control, erosion control, improving road-stream crossings and adding a camping spur off of Forest Service Road 566 (Echo Basin Road).
"When we build a temporary road for logging, we have to shut it down and rehabilitate it once the project is complete. Dispersed camping is obviously popular. We're talking about leaving a stub of road (as a campsite)," Rathbone said.
If approved, implementation won't take place until summer of next year. Foresters will spend 2013 gathering field data and completing the required environmental assessments. The public will be able to weigh-in during an official comment period later on, but initial suggestions can still be sent to Rathbone at email@example.com.