The San Juan National Forest is considering a vegetation management plan that includes logging ponderosa pine forests northeast of Dolores.
An environmental assessment will be released in February for the Salter Vegetation Management Project.
The project proposes a combination of actions that include timber harvest, tree planting and prescribed burns covering 22,346 acres north of Dolores.
Proposed treatment areas are in the vicinity of Salter Y, Plateau Creek, Carlyle Point, Turkey Knoll and Boggy Draw.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla said the proposed projects’ goals are to increase the stand diversity of the ponderosa pine forest ecosystem, improve ponderosa forest resiliency and provide economic opportunities for the timber industry.
The proposed project would lower pine stocking levels, reduce the presence of dwarf mistletoe disease and remove infested bark beetle trees and dead trees, according to project scoping documents.
“It would create gaps and small openings in the dense canopy to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor,” management documents state. “Fuel burning would reduce duff, exposing bare soil and creating improved conditions for new tree seedlings to establish.”
Padilla said the timber harvest is part of a series of recent logging projects made possible by interest from larger timber companies in the area: Ironwood, Aspen Wall Wood, Aspen Wood Products, and Montrose Forest Products.
The San Juan National Forest timber program has become “pretty active” in the past few years, and the proposed Salter project is a continuation of that, Padilla said during a meeting with Dolores town officials Jan. 11.
“We went from having one to two timber sales per year, and selling about 24,000 (hundred cubic feet) of timber on annual basis, now we are in the 60,000 (hundred cubic feet) range,” per year, he said.
The timber harvests reduce overgrown forests in the area, he added, helping to lessen risks for larger wildfires and pine beetle outbreaks.
“This project is an effort to reduce stocking and increase resilience and health of ponderosa pine stands to create a more natural forest,” Padilla said. “Our attempt is to maintain forest stand health so we do not lose it to wildfire, beetle kill, or disease.”
The logging’s impact on recreation in the area north of Dolores is a concern expressed by the public during the scoping process, Padilla said, and the environmental analysis will take a hard look at the issue. Logging truck traffic was another concern.
Based on similar projects in the forest, officials expect an average of nine loaded logging trucks going through the town of Dolores per day during the harvest season. If approved, the harvest could take seven to 10 years. The estimated traffic is an average; on some days, there will be no trucks, on others, there could be many.
“What are the recreational concerns?” asked Dolores Town Board member Sheila Wheeler.
A portion of the vegetation management project is in the Boggy Draw area popular for cyclists, hikers, ATV users and campers, said San Juan Forest Recreation planner Tom Rice.
He said maintaining trail recreation and dispersed camping at Boggy Draw would remain a focus.
“We want to try and reduce the impact to the trail system as much as possible, leaving as many trail opportunities available to the public while also working with the timber operators who may have the opportunity to remove timber from the area,” Rice said.
Board member Jen Stark asked about traffic and public safety.
Padilla said additional signage could be placed in and near Dolores to advise the public to be on the lookout for logging trucks.
Increased logging traffic through town over the years could put additional wear and tear on town streets, said Dolores Town Manager Ken Charles. How to pay for road damage will be considered.
Other activities associated with Salter Vegetation project would include maintenance-related road-work in the forest. The work would be performed before, during or after forest treatments.
The majority of the roadwork would involve reshaping and smoothing of the road surface and restoring associated drainage ditches or rolling dips.
Some roads that have been closed or unused for 20 to 30 years would reopen for the timber harvest, then be closed again. No new permanent roads are proposed to be built with this project, though temporary roads may be required to reduce the need for excessive tractor skidding and allow wood products to be moved to the permanent road system.
The temporary road segments would be decommissioned within five years of first use.
After the draft environmental assessment is released in February, the public will have 30 days to comment.
Comments are reviewed and addressed, then a draft decision notice will be issued. A 45-day objection period follows the release of the final environmental analysis and draft decision notice. If no objections are received, the final decision will be signed and implemented. If objections are received there will be a 45 day period for resolutions of the identified issues.