Hardscrabble Road closed to recreational vehicles, open to logging vehicles | VailDaily.com

Hardscrabble Road closed to recreational vehicles, open to logging vehicles

Hardscrabble Road between Eagle and Gypsum, along with East Castle Peak and Greenhorn/Cottonwood Creek north of Gypsum, closed to motorized and mechanized vehicles on Saturday. The closure will last until April 15.

Winter logging operations will begin on Hardscrabble Road on Monday and are expected to continue through March. If the area receives snow, Hardscrabble Road will be plowed while the logging takes place.

A U.S. Forest Service contractor will cut and haul trees via the Hardscrabble Road, and the public may also encounter logging and plow traffic entering Brush Creek Road from Hardscrabble Road.

“The logging is being completed to improve overall forest health, provide forest products to local industries, and help reduce the risk and impacts from wildfires,” according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Beetle kill project

The project was approved under the 2017 Hardscrabble Project environmental assessment and is part of the White River National Forest’s “Ten Year Stewardship Contract.” The Ten Year Stewardship Contract dates back at least 10 years and was envisioned as a proactive effort to create fuel breaks and reduce the accumulation of heavy fuel loads adjacent to communities within the wildland urban interface as a result of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, which plagued the White River National Forest from the late 1990s until 2016 or so.

Critics of the policy argue that the dead trees created by the pine beetle epidemic have not led to more severe wildfires in those areas.

Forest ecologist Thomas Veblen with the University of Colorado said very small fuels, matter with a fuel diameter of less than an inch, is what determines fire hazard, not the large trees harvested from logging operations.

“Back when the mountain pine beetle outbreak began in the lodgepole zones, such as around Vail in the late 1990s, the knee-jerk response was oh my god, that’s just like kindling, we’re going to have vast areas burn because of all those dead standing trees,” Veblen said. “But then gradually the fuels experts, people that tend to work for the forest service, said no, wait just a second, it’s really fine fuels that determine the fire hazard.”

Veblen said both the mountain pine beetle and the intense wildfires which have ravaged the West are both a result of climate, and not a result of each other.

“It is true that we’ve had a big increase in pine beetle outbreaks, and spruce beetle outbreaks, and other kinds of beetle outbreaks, killing trees all across the western United States during the last 20 years or so,” Veblen said. “That is driven by warming temperatures and drier conditions. It’s also true that we’ve had a big increase in the area burned, all across the western U.S. … both of those trends are driven by climate, they’re not driven by each other. In other words, the dead trees are not driving the increase in burning, it’s warmer, drier conditions that are driving the increase in burning.”

More motorized this year

Hardscrabble Road’s non-motorized and non-mechanized closures usually go into effect in December, but this year Colorado Parks and Wildlife requested late season access for big game hunting on public lands in Eagle County. The local big game hunting season was limited in the fall due to the Grizzly Creek Fire, which burned in western Eagle County.

The closures are to protect wildlife and public lands, said BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Larry Sandoval.

Hardscrabble Road allows non-motorized and non-mechanized recreation opportunities such as hiking, snowshoeing, horseback riding and skiing. All public land users can help reduce stress to wintering deer and elk by observing wildlife from a distance and keeping dogs under control, preferably leashed.

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