Beetle-kill removal under way in Minturn

Melanie Wong
A helicopter lifts beetle-kill logs out from the forest around Minturn. The logging work is expected to continue through next week.
Special to the Daily |

MINTURN — Many Minturn residents have been awakened in the early hours by an unusual sound, accompanied by an unusual sight — helicopters circling overhead, moving in and out of the area carrying massive logs.

The log removal is part of the Minturn Wildland Urban Interface Stewardship project, where U.S. Forest Service contractors are cutting and removing beetle-killed trees in an area near the town. The project has been under way for a couple of weeks now and is expected to last another week or so, said Dave Neely, district ranger for the Eagle and Holy Cross Ranger District.

The removal of the trees is designed to prevent forest wildfires, as well as help new trees regrow in the beetle-kill stricken areas. Most of what is being removed is dead lodgepole pine and some aspens.

“The best way to regenerate pine and aspen is by opening up the forest floor,” Neely said. “It helps cones release their seed. It kick starts that future forest and, of course, removes hazardous fuels.”

The noise of the helicopter has posed a nuisance to some residents — mostly because logging work starts very early in the morning — but there is good reason for the unconventional wake-up call. The helicopters can carry varying loads depending on fuel levels, air conditions and temperature. Working in the early hours allows the work to go more quickly, efficiently and helps crews avoid afternoon storms.

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“They’re taking advantage of cool, stable air,” Neely said. “We understand that some Minturn residents have been worried about being woken up in the morning, but we’re trying to get this done quickly and in a safe manner. Better a helicopter carrying hazardous fuels than a water bucket.”

Minturn resident Kari Bangston said she can see the helicopters carrying their loads right above her home. While the process is noisy, she says it’s also impressive to see.

“They can do a full loop in less than five minutes. It’s loud, but it’s interesting to watch, and I appreciate that they’re not making a new logging road and tearing up some of our trails,” she said. “Thankfully, most of the noise happens when we’re at work, but if you’re not up by 6:30 a.m., you will be.”

Tree removal process

To remove the trees, ground crews saw down the trees to the stump, then place chokers on the logs. The helicopter flies in with a 200-foot line that lowers a large grappling hook that lifts the logs out of the forest. Each “turn,” or fly-in, can take out two to six individual logs, depending on various factors. From there, the logs are taken to the loading area, where the wood typically goes to processing areas around the state.

As the removal crews finish work in the area, there will be some closure of public trails. The West Grouse Trail is expected to close for about a day, although officials are not yet sure which day. Closure signs will be posted at the trailhead, and people can check in on the status by calling the Forest Service office in Minturn at 970-827-5715.

The Minturn project has been discussed and in the works for a few years now. The approval process was finalized in 2009, after the U.S. Forest Service addressed questions from the public about how and whether or not the project should be done. However, the work was further delayed thanks to forest fires that have ravaged the state in the past couple years.

“We were ready to go, but with all the fire seasons we’ve had, the (log) purchaser had a difficult time contracting the helicopter because they were all out fighting wildfires,” Neely said.

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