The draft environmental assessment for the Lone Pine Vegetation Project details a plan across 62,000 acres that combines commercial ponderosa logging, timber and understory thinning, prescribed fire and reseeding to encourage a more healthy and resilient forest.
Reducing ponderosa stand density and promoting more diverse age classification are the goals, said forester David Casey. Thinning the forest is expected to lessen a growing epidemic of the round-headed pine beetle.
By 2018, the area of dead, dying or damaged trees in the area from the beetle grew to 27,000 acres, a 59 percent increase from 2017.
Forest structure in the area is predominately mature, even-aged, and densely stocked ponderosa pine stands with a closed canopy. Tree ages average 80-100 years. The dense, monotype conditions increase susceptibility to insect infestation or wildfire events, provide less habitat diversity for wildlife and lower forest resiliency, according to the study.
Opening up the canopy will allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and promote new pine growth.
“There are currently few pine seedlings regenerating, and foresters are concerned that the area lacks the next generation of tree seedlings,” Casey said.
The project would support a more natural mosaic of vegetation, including areas with bare soil or scarce duff that are ideal conditions for new tree seedling establishment. The plan also addresses safety concerns by reducing the amount of dead and dying timber that contribute to wildfire fuel accumulations, and snag and falling tree hazards.
Proposed thinning of even-aged gamble oak will promote young sprouts and more healthy acorn production for wildlife, according to the environmental analysis. Grass and forb production is lacking in most areas with overstory pondersoa pine, and pine litter dominates the ground layer.
The hope is to create a more natural ponderosa ecosystem that features a variety of grasses, forbs and shrubs in the understory, which maintains moisture and soil stability, and provides better wildlife habitat.
Eight geographic areas have been delineated within the project area: Ferris, Five Pines, Brumley, Lake Canyon, Glade Point, Big Water Spring, Mair and Rock Spring.
About 30,000 acres would be opened up to commercial logging, Casey said, but a selective approach will be used, not clear-cutting.
If the plan is approved, Forest Service bidding for commercial sales could begin by June with logging starting soon after. Base rates for forest service sales are $3 per 100 cubic feet, plus $2 road use and $2 brush disposal fee.
The logging truck routes are on Forest Roads 504 and 521. Trucks will travel across the Bradfield Bridge and county roads to access U.S. 491.
For public safety, no hauling will be permitted on 521 and 504 over July 4-5, Labor Day and Memorial Day holiday weekends.
Casey said the forest roads have recently been improved with gravel and better drainage in anticipation of the push for more logging, and timber companies also help pay maintain the roads as part of their contracts.
About 50-70 miles of temporary roads would be installed to access timber stands, but the roads will be removed and decommissioned once logging is complete.
The environmental assessment calls for a prescribed fire treatment to follow logging and thinning operations. Low-intensity controlled burns reduce thick forest duff and improve conditions for new tree seedlings.
“Prescribed fire releases nutrients in the seed bed and gives them a boost,” Casey said. “We are really re-establishing ecological function to the ecosystem and setting up timber stands so they regenerate with good age-class diversity.”
Local and regional mills and logging companies have expressed interest in the timber sales, he said. The portion of the area that has been impacted by beetles also have a niche market for decorative paneling and furniture because of a unique blue-gray stain caused by a fungus carried by the beetle.
Specific, substantive comments can be submitted via email to: [email protected] with “Lone Pine Vegetation Project” in the subject line; or mail or hand delivery to: Dolores Ranger District Attention: Lone Pine Vegetation Project, 29211 Colorado Highway 184, Dolores, CO 81321, or faxed to 970-882-6841.