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Logging meant to help forest

Cliff Thompson
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyAn environmentalist is upset about U.S. Forest Service plans to cut down 2,000 acres of trees north of Vail.
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VAIL – The U.S. Forest Service wants to cut down 2,000 acres of trees north of Vail to help save a forest it says is getting too old to fight for itself.Trees could be cut during the summer of 2007 on an area four miles north of Vail to near Piney Lake and northwest to the northern side of Red and White Mountain, north of Avon.Environmentalists don’t like trees being cut or that 10 to 15 miles of temporary roads are needed. Vail officials don’t like the proposal because log-hauling trucks would use Red Sandstone Road and travel through neighborhoods.The lodgepole pine timber harvest, as it is being called, will remove enough trees to build 1,100 homes and will take a decade to complete. Most of the logging will be done by mechanical tree-cutting machines.The cutting is an attempt to reduce the susceptibility of the remaining trees to infestations of mountain pine beetles that kill by burrowing beneath bark and cutting off the flow of life-giving sap. Dead trees could fuel a wildfire.Thinner forests give trees more room to grow, allowing trees to get stronger and better resist beetles.Most of the trees in the Piney area are 120 years old – what foresters call “prime and over-mature forest” – and just the kind of trees beetles like. That forest probably took root after a pine beetle attack killed most of the trees, and a fire replaced the stand.

Chain saws vs. bugsBut cutting trees to protect the forest doesn’t sit well with Rocky Smith, a member of the environmental group Colorado Wild who toured the Piney area last summer.”You just can’t cut fast enough to keep up with pine beetles,” he said. “Chain saws do more damage than beetles. When the beetles are done, at least the tree remains to fulfill its role in the ecosystem.”Forest Service officials said the thinning and cutting will help create more different age trees in the forest and could slow the spread of the beetles moving into the area. Beetles attack mostly aging, “overmature” trees that are 80 to 150 years oldBuilding temporary roads also bothers Smith. “If you have a linear path through the trees, all terrain vehicle are going to use it,” he said. “To close the roads you have to obliterate them and place lots of barriers.”That’s just what the Forest Service plans to do, said Cal Wettstein, district ranger in Eagle and Minturn.”It will take intense obliteration, with lots of obstruction,” he said. “With lots of trees. It’s easier to do in timber. We’ve got that down to a science.”

Trucks vs. bikersRed Sandstone Road leads to Piney Lake, 13 miles to the north and is a popular summer auto and mountain bike road. Combining large log trucks, mountain bikers and other vehicles on the narrow, winding and unpaved road is one of the issues that concern both the Forest Service and officials from the town of Vail. A total of 3,350 logging trucks are expected over the 10-year project, said the Forest Service’s Cary Green.The Forest Service is requiring limited hours for the logging trucks. They could operate Monday through Thursday, and until noon on Fridays. There would be no truck traffic on weekends or holidays he said. The potential conflict on the popular forest road doesn’t make sense to Vail councilwoman Diana Donovan. “That land has far greater value to local governments as recreational land as opposed to a timber sale,” she said.Vail wants to require the logging truck contractor to post a $165,000 bond to repair damaged roads, Wettstein said.Where the trucks go is an exercise in economics, Wettstein said. The timber sold will generate $438,000 or possibly more depending on timber prices. If the logging contractor is forced to haul the logs down a back road to Wolcott, it will cost more, leaving less money for the Forest Service to upgrade trails and Sandstone Road, Wettstein said

“It’s a trade-out,” he said. “We won’t be able to do as many sale-area improvements.”Part of the area was logged in the 1950s and again in the 1980s and 1990s, Green said. Part of this timber sale seeks to “feather” the edges of some of the old clearcuts left behind by the earlier logging activities, to make them look more natural, Green said.==========================================On the Webhttp://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/==========================================Piney River projectThe White River National Forest proposes to harvest timber by thinning on approximately 1,730 to 2,120 acres north of Vail. Lodgepole pine and incidental amounts of sub-alpine fir, aspen and Engelmann spruce would be harvested.

Activities will include road maintenance, road re-construction and temporary road use construction. An estimated 14,000 to 18,000 thousand board feet of timber will be harvested. In addition, approximately 24 miles of roads will have spot road reconstruction and 10 to 15 miles of temporary roads are needed. Forest products would be transported south and east on Red Sandstone road to Vail, and then onto I-70. The area is approximately four miles northwest of Vail, near Red Sandstone and Freeman creeks on approximately 35,000 acres.To comment: Call Cary Green, 827-5160 or e-mail to: comments-rocky-mountain-white-river-holy-cross@fs.fed.us==========================================Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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