The Nature Conservancy takes interest in local forests through Vail Resorts partnership |

The Nature Conservancy takes interest in local forests through Vail Resorts partnership

The Nature Conservancy, through a partnership with Vail Resorts, seeks to reduce wildfire potential in Eagle and Summit Counties through the removal of lodgepole pines and the promotion of aspen growth. Placards which The Nature Conservancy helped install adorn Vail Mountain's Epic Discovery areas.
John LaConte |

Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery may not be in full operation this year, but the resort’s partner in the effort – The Nature Conservancy – remains dedicated to the issues the partnership sought to tackle.

Chief among those issues is an effort to reduce wildfire risks in Vail and Breckenridge.

Over the past three years, 1% of revenue from Epic Discovery activities has went to The Nature Conservancy, which seeks to identify opportunities for forest management collaborations in our area. Among the many tough decisions Vail Mountain will have to make in the coming months is if that donation will continue this summer, considering the only Epic Discovery activities available are mountain’s Forest Flyer roller coaster and Eagle’s Loop informative hike, where The Nature Conservancy helped install placards about native plants and animals.

The Nature Conservancy’s major focus in Vail in recent years involved the Vail Intermountain Fuels Reduction project, a $1.1 million effort which removed 200,000 board feet of conifer trees from the Intermountain area of Vail from 2017 to 2019.

The Nature Conservancy helped to see informational placards installed on the Eagle’s Loop trail atop Vail Mountain’s Eagle Bahn Gondola as part of the resort’s Epic Discovery park, unveiled in 2016.
John LaConte |

‘Crown fire regime’

In the Vail and Breckenridge areas, lodgepole pine is the most common conifer, and that particular species “is known, for sure, as a species that is really naturally adapted to a crown fire regime, as we call it,” said Rob Addington, Forest Program Director for The Nature Conservancy Colorado Field Office.

Crown fires are defined as the type of fires that take place at the canopy level of the forest and can be impossible to put out once they ignite. With that in mind, Addington says aspen trees have been identified by The Nature Conservancy as a preferred alternative, and their efforts are aimed at reducing the potential for crown fire through changing the species composition from lodgepole to aspen.

“We’re doing what we can to promote aspen, and the regrowth of aspen, in these forest management areas, to increase landscape diversity and to reduce wildfire risk,” Addington said.

“Aspen is such a beautiful tree, especially in the fall, so it’s a good one to have, especially in these – what we call – wildland urban interface settings,” he added.

Wildland urban interface areas

Those wildland urban interface areas, otherwise known as neighborhoods and towns in these parts, is where The Nature Conservancy feels it can be especially helpful to the Forest Service.

Aside from the informational Eagle’s Loop hike, Vail Mountain’s Forest Flyer roller coaster is the resort’s only guest attraction currently available under the Epic Discovery theme which was introduced atop Vail Mountain in 2016. One percent of Epic Discovery attraction revenue has been donated by the resort to The Nature Conservancy in years past.
John LaConte |

“We work really closely with the forest service on projects that are on federal lands, but then also have role on private lands – on non-federal lands, in the same kind of work – where, say, the U.S. forest service can’t work easily or, in some cases, at all,” Addington said. “Then other organizations like the Nature Conservancy, local fire protection districts, the state forest service, we can come in and do the work on the private side of the fence, just because we know is needs to be across boundary, it can’t just all be done by the U.S. Forest Service on the national forest. We also need to do what we can on the other private lands, non-federal lands.

“Because wildfire doesn’t know boundaries,” Addington added. “It’s a cross-boundary type of issue that we’re facing.”

While the Vail Intermountain Fuels Reduction project has now officially concluded, Addington said they have a few more projects in mind for our area.

A geographic information system of the region allows The Nature Conservancy to “look at various maps, and kind of get a feel for – based on wildfire risk maps, areas that would be of highest importance, and then from there it would be more directly looking in the field at possibilities and then, most importantly, talking with local partners that know the geography, know the landscape, and where opportunities to actually do forest management exist,” Addington said.

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