Burning of slash piles seen from Vail Mountain wraps up years of logging work in Piney area
The burning of a series of enormous slash piles north of Vail this month brings an end to an effort that was more than 15 years in the making.
The slash piles, located near the intersection of the Buffehr Creek Trail and Red and White Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 734), were set ablaze in mid-January after a burn plan for the area was approved. The project, known as the Piney Timber Sale, dates back to 2005.
Smoke and flames could be seen from Vail Mountain at times, as the slash piles were especially large — the Forest Service allowed the contractor to make extra-large piles on the Piney project — with numerous 45-foot wide, 45-foot long, 25-foot high piles stacked at various locations along Red and White Mountain Road.
In 2005, the Piney project area was part of a larger environmental assessment that proposed to reduce the susceptibility of lodgepole pine stands to mountain pine beetle infestation, increase vegetation diversity, and provide commercial wood products.
A timber contract was awarded in July of 2007, but in 2011, that contract was canceled after it was determined the project would no longer be economically viable due to a decline in lumber prices.
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Commercial logging was revived on the project in 2018, but hit another stall during the COVID-19 pandemic, and was started up again in 2022.
A salvage prescription was ordered for the area, allowing contractors to take the dead and dying trees while leaving most of the live trees. This resulted in the massive slash piles, which the contractor had to receive special permission from the forest service to create.
David Boyd with the White River National Forest said the Piney piles, although larger than is often the case, were less than a tenth of an acre in size. A burn plan detailing those sizes and other factors meant to minimize unpleasant issues with smoke and flames had to be approved for the area, which can only be accessed in the winter on touring equipment or by snowmobile, Boyd said.
The piles were set ablaze by firefighters with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service.