Vail, Forest Service sign cost share agreement for forest health plan
Work on the 4,400-acre project will be expensive; grant-funding partners will be needed
- What: Vail Valley Forest Health and Fuels Project.
- Project size: Roughly 4,400 acres.
- Location: North of Interstate 70 between Spraddle Creek and Pitkin Creek.
- Purpose: Reduce wildfire risk and enhance wildlife habitat.
Helping forest health north of Interstate 70 at East Vail is going to require a lot of partners, a lot of paperwork and a lot of money.
The plan was first sparked by the prospect of building workforce housing at Booth Heights, a 23.3-acre parcel owned by Vail Resorts. That property is part of critical winter range for bighorn sheep and other wildlife.
Concern for that parcel quickly moved discussions to the surrounding area. Sheep won’t get much help on just 23 acres. In addition, while there’s a herd of mostly-female bighorn near the East Vail interchange, a small group of rams tends to congregate in an area near the town public works shops, about halfway between the East Vail and main Vail interchanges.
For some time now, town officials have been working with their counterparts from the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife on a project called the Vail Valley Forest Health and Fuels project. The council Tuesday approved a cost-sharing agreement on the program.
The project area is about 4,400 acres, or nearly seven square miles. Further complicating the effort is the fact that just more than half of the targeted area is within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Virtually any thinning work inside wilderness boundaries requires special approvals.
Fire mitigation essential
In addition to habitat improvement, the area north of I-70 also requires some serious thinning to reduce the risk of wildfire at the town’s boundaries.
The Forest Service in 1998 proposed a series of prescribed burns for part of that area. That plan was derailed by neighbors due to air quality concerns and worries that a prescribed burn might get out of control.
The current plan won’t touch every part of the 4,400-acre parcel, but proposed work includes prescribed burning, manual pruning and chainsaw work and mechanical logging on slopes of less than 40% grade, excluding wilderness area.
The project will take years to complete. The permitting, planning and staffing is expected to take place in the fall of this year extending to the spring of 2021.
While the Forest Service will run the approval process under the National Environmental Policy Act, the town has hired the SE Group to compile much of the information needed for the environmental analysis.
It’s going to be expensive
After approval, the work required will be costly.
Hand treatment, depending on fuel density and terrain, could cost from $400 to $1,200 per acre. If Spraddle Creek Road requires work to handle logging trucks, the cost is estimated at between $20,000 and $25,000 per mile.
The intent now is to bring in grant funding partners for as much of that work as possible.
During an Aug. 4 presentation to the Vail Town Council, Marcia Gilles of the Forest Service said that agency has some money that can be appropriated for ready-to-go projects. In addition, the National Forest Foundation also has grant money available.
New Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis came to the district from a job in Washington D.C. Gilles said the contacts Veldhuis made there could also be helpful.
Veldhuis said the Forest Service has set up partnerships around the country with nonprofit groups and forged public-private partnerships to get habitat improvement work done.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.