Yeoman Park remains closed to campers as Forest Service pathologist determines tree damage
‘Trees, they cannot heal themselves’
A pathologist arrived this week to assess the scene at Yeoman Park, but it wasn’t a pilot episode of “CSI: White River National Forest.”
In a television crime procedure drama, the pathologist’s arrival is the pivotal moment that sets the stage for the investigation promised by the show’s title. In Yeoman Park on Wednesday, the arrival of the U.S. Forest Service pathologist marked an important data collection and analysis effort to determine what caused several live trees to fall near campsites at the popular Eagle County locale.
Yeoman Park has been closed to camping since July 14 when the trees, which appeared healthy, fell near campsites. After they toppled, the Forest Service crews found the trees suffered extensive interior rot and they set out to determine both the cause and extent of the issue.
“Without taking a core sample from a tree, it is hard to tell if it has this interior rot,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis. “We’ve now sampled a number of trees within the campground and found rot in several other trees. We’ll need to do a complete survey and remove trees found with this problem.”
That’s when Bradley Lalande — the plant pathologist stationed at the Gunnison Service Center — entered the local drama. Armed with sophisticated equipment, Lalande tested a broad swath of Yeoman Park trees. He moved from tree to tree, performing small bores through their bark and into their core to determine if “holding wood” was stable. Those readings, together with exterior examination, told crews if other standing trees presented an imminent falling hazard.
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The answer is a good news-bad news scenario. Lalande’s work didn’t indicate widespread insect infestation as the cause for the recent tree failures.
“This is, at the end of the day, indicative of human-caused damage,” he said. “I didn’t find additional issues besides the human-caused damage.”
Trees can’t heal
A stroll around Yeoman Park reveals lots of damaged trees. People have carved initials into bark and used live trees as knife- or hatchet-throwing targets. It’s an actual death by a thousand cuts situation.
“As humans, when we get injured, we scab over and we heal. Trees, they cannot heal themselves,” Lalande said.
Instead, a tree will develop an outside callus as it attempts to wall off a wound. But the damage is still there, inside the tree, where it isn’t visible. That’s how seemingly healthy trees end up falling down. In popular camping areas such as Yeoman Park, that’s a big problem.
Paula Peterson, the recreation manger at the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest, noted that every year Forest Service crews survey developed sites to identify and remove potentially hazardous trees. This spring, crews removed 20 standing dead trees before the Yeoman Park campground opened to the public. But, as Veldhuis noted, the recent failures involved live trees that did not advertise their interior rot.
“We are erring of the side of caution and testing every tree (around the campground),” Lalande said.
That testing is just the first step in the Yeoman Park assessment effort. Peterson said once that work is completed, the data analysis and reporting jobs will begin. She couldn’t offer a time frame for how long that work will take.
The report will earmark hazard trees that must be removed.
“That is a process in and of itself,” Peterson said. “These are large trees and for some of them, we have only one way they can be felled.”
Sawyers — tree-cutting experts — will have to find ways to fell trees without damaging campsite amenities, Peterson explained. “Because of where these trees are situated, I would guess the majority of them will be C-sawyer (highest experience level) trees.”
But right now, the majority of the U.S. Forest Service’s most experienced sawyers are at work on fires burning across the western United States. All this adds up to grim news for would-be Yeoman Park campers.
“This is a health and safety issue,” Peterson said. “I would say Yeoman Park is closed indefinitely for this season.”
Veldhuis foreshadowed that pronouncement in the July 14 press release that first announced the closure.
“We do not have an estimate for how long the campground will be closed,” Veldhuis said. “We will re-open Yeoman as soon as we are able to.”
For now, numerous signs along the east fork of Brush Creek warn visitors that they won’t be camping at Yeoman Park. Forest Service personnel at Yeoman turn around people who don’t believe what they read.
Eventually, the park will reopen, but a reminder of this summer’s work will remain behind in the form of stumps where trees used to stand. And, as Peterson noted, signs will be attached to those stumps to let campers know that irresponsible human activity killed a tree that used to stand tall in the location.