Fixing up the forest
CORDILLERA “The managers of one of the valley’s most pristine resort communities say they’re not about to let its lush forests go up in flames.
In a massive effort to control the spread of the pine beetle infestation in Cordillera, the community’s Property Owners Association and Wildfire and Healthy Forest Committee hired contractors to remove about 4,000 trees this summer.
“This is the most aggressive effort by any private community in the valley,” said Marty Suarez, Cordillera Metro District’s marketing director.
Another 2,500 trees were sprayed with a special mix of chemicals, called Astro, which was the most effective and least toxic spray recommended by the Division of Forestry, said Emily Mitchell, the metro district’s president.
“The pine beetle problem hit us hard this year and we’re trying to get ahead of it,” Mitchell said. “We believe in getting ahead of it, we can take out the infested trees and allow our forest to start to regenerate so you’re not taking out massive amounts of trees at once, where you have landslide problems.”
Spraying the trees cost $11 to $12 per tree and is 90 percent effective, whereas removing a tree costs between $150 and $200 each, the district officials said. In all, the metro district spent close to half a million dollars.
About 40 percent of the infested trees were on private property and in people’s yards, said Bob Egizi, the director of public safety for Cordillera, who headed the effort.
The homeowners had to pay for the removal of the trees in their yard, but the spraying was free.
“(The property owners) had the option not to do the work,” Suarez said. “But no one took that option. Everyone wanted to participate in the program.”
The battle against the beetles began in January when the Colorado Division of Forestry identified and marked 2,500 infested trees in the Cordillera. The Eagle County Geographical Information Systems Department used the data to map it out.
The metro district also made sure to consult with the Division of Wildlife, Mitchell said.
“We didn’t want to do anything in doing defensible space and mitigation that would negatively affect wildlife in our community,” she said.
The cutting began at the end of May after the ground dried from the snow melt. At the height of the tree-removal stage in late June and early July, there were two crews from contractor Enviro Land Management working the lodgepole pines.
“Our goal was to remove as many as possible before the bugs started to fly,” Suarez said.
The pine beetles live in the trees until a certain time period when they emerge and fly around, infecting surrounding trees. Suarez said no one knows what causes them to leave ” it could be the time of year, the heat, the amount of rain that has fallen ” but it seems to always happen in early July.
Another contractor, Halco, from Montana, did some of the “more delicate work around homes,” Mitchell said.
The crew was working nine hours a day, six days a week this summer, which was more than average for them. Most of the work was done in the Ranch neighborhood on Cordillera’s south side.
Older trees with a diameter greater than 7 inches were targeted because they are weaker and more susceptible to the beetle. Trees that were in the way also had to get cut down.
Cutting the dead trees and thinning out the healthier trees will encourage new growth, Suarez said.
“It allows for more light and water to reach younger vegetation,” she said.
The infested logs have a noticeably dark outer ring in its cross-section, which is a sign of the fungi the beetles transmit into the tree. The logs were hauled away to timber mills in Montrose and Grand Junction and the limbs were chipped up in the hydro-axe machinery and returned to the forest floor.
Bruce Many, an Enviro Land Management worker who operates the hydro-axe, acknowledged the difficulty of disposing of the logs, also known as “biomass.” The log trucks typically spend as much as $400 a day on fuel, he said.
Mitchell said the 7,000-acre community is lucky to have so many diverse species in its forest, and because aspens are interspersed among the lodgepole pines, regeneration is easier.
The Wildfire and Healthy Forest Committee started as just the Wildfire Committee in 2003 when the state was in a drought but changed the name to address more issues. The committee hired a Boulder-based wildfire management consulting firm, Anchor Point, that year to define areas of Cordillera most at risk of a wildfire.
“Everything that we look at and do is in the context of really being stewards for our environment here, because we all really believe that we leave this a much better place than we came,” Mitchell said.
Nic Corbett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org