Forest Service eyes thinning projects on Meadow Mountain, other areas near Minturn |

Forest Service eyes thinning projects on Meadow Mountain, other areas near Minturn

Forester Shelby Limberis points out a change in tree ring patterns before and after a thinning project. The rings become more spaced out after nearby trees are removed, a process foresters describe as being "released," in which the tree is able to allow more absorption of water and sunlight. Limberis said when the rings were closer together, the tree wasn't growing well.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

A forest thinning project planned for the Meadow Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Tigiwon and No Name areas of Eagle County, if completed correctly, could be the last piece of forest management required of the area for quite some time, a National Forest Service representative told locals last week.

The Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest held an open house on Thursday in an effort to let the public know and receive feedback on all the local forest areas that will receive thinning treatments in 2023.

Forester Shelby Limberis said the forest service aims to reduce the density of lodgepole pines in areas that were clear-cut (meaning all trees were removed) in the 1980s, as these areas have seen regrowth that is denser than the forest service would like to see.

Limberis used a table coaster-sized cut of a tree to illustrate how a thinning project can affect the remaining trees that are not removed, showing ring patterns before and after a thinning project. After a thinning project, trees in the area are “released,” Limberis said, a process that allows the tree to absorb more water and sunlight. The rings, as a result, were much more spaced out following the thinning project, Limberis said.

The clear cuts that occurred in the 1980s on Meadow Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Tigiwon and No Name — all located south of Interstate 70 near Minturn in Eagle County — were likely carried out in the name of commercial timber harvesting, rather than the post-pine beetle fuel reduction projects that became more common in the 2000s, Limberis said.

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“From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s the White River National Forest conducted timber harvesting activities that regenerated lodgepole pine stands across the forest,” Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a memo shared by Limberis. “Many of these stands are currently densely stocked and need thinning to reduce competition and promote individual tree growth.”

Fitzwilliams, in the memo, also said the mountain pine beetle epidemic that lasted until 2012 or so in the White River National Forest also caused mortality rates of 50% or more in mature lodgepole pine stands.

“In response to widespread forest mortality, the White River National Forest has implemented, and will continue to implement, widespread fuels reduction projects across the forest to preventatively protect private property, community infrastructure, national forest resources and to provide for firefighter safety,” Fitzwilliams said. “Since being implemented, completed fuel breaks have regenerated, with seedling stocking levels often exceeding 2,500 trees per acre; while desired stocking levels are between 150 and 1,500 trees per acre.”

The No Name area, outlined in red, is set to see a large reduction in trees under a proposed fuels management program. The No Name area is located across from Camp Hale, which has been recommended as a potential national monument site.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

No Name and CORE Act

The 2023 treatments call for 183 acres to be thinned on Grouse Mountain, 22 acres on Meadow Mountain, 38 acres in the Tigiwon area, and 11 acres across from Camp Hale in an area known as “No Name.”

A representative from the Eagle-Summit Wilderness Alliance expressed concern over the No Name area, as it could be included in a future rendition of the CORE Act, a bill aimed at expanding wilderness protection areas in Eagle and Summit counties.

Limberis said the No Name area is the only part of the proposed action in the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District for 2023 that could overlap with lands included in the CORE Act.

If part of those CORE Act lands are included in the formation of a new national monument, as recommended by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the national monument is still likely to allow the type of forest thinning prescribed for the No Name area in 2023, Limberis said.

Outside the WUI

The thinning projects in the Meadow Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Tigiwon and No Name areas of Eagle County are occurring outside of the area known as the wildland urban interface, or WUI, which abuts private property and community infrastructure.

Fuels reduction projects in areas outside of the WUI have become controversial in recent years; and in recent months forest service policy on wildfire suppression has come into question by environmental groups as federal funding has increased following large wildfires like the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires of 2020.

WildEarth Guardians, in June, released a policy statement saying the majority of fire suppression resources should be focused not on areas outside the WUI, but on “the home ignition zone” 100-200 feet from the home.

The group says it would like to see an end of the use of “medicalized language like ‘healthy forests’ that characterizes forests as unhealthy and in need of ‘treatments’ that follow specific ‘prescriptions.'”

WildEarth Guardians rewilding manager Adam Rissien says the Forest Service is emphasizing logging and road building across National Forest System lands on an unprecedented scale, but ignoring a focus within the home ignition zone.

“The U.S. Forest Service simply cannot log its way out of the climate crisis or effectively protect homes and communities from wildfires by dramatically increasing industrial logging of National Forest System lands,” Rissien said. “The research by experts like Dr. Jack Cohen, retired U.S. Forest Service fire behaviorist, is crystal clear: to protect homes and communities from wildfire we must focus efforts within the Home Ignition Zone, an area 100 to 200 feet from the home.”

If the thinning in No Name and the other areas is successful, however, Limberis said the area might then be left alone for generations to come.

“I would say for these particular stands, depending on what we do with the slash, it would be the last entry for a while, because it’s not a merchantable product, they’re still too small, so why not leave it alone to grow?” Limberis said. “But I can’t say that it wouldn’t be harvested in 100 years.”

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