Salvage operation

Forest Service allows loggers to recover timber damaged

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— Some 8,000 trees on 230 acres of land burned by the Hinman fire are being logged near Seedhouse Road as part of the first rehabilitation project since the summer fires in the Routt National Forest.

A three-man crew operating large logging machines began the work at Coulton Creek on Friday.

They were working in a black stand of trees, a small section of the 10,000 acres the Hinman fire burned over the summer.

Most the trees being cut down are dead as a result of the fire.

However, the majority of the spruce trees that burned there are still valuable to loggers, Supervisory Forester Andy Cadenhead said.

"All it did for the most part was scorch the outside," he said.

The Forest Service identified the spot as an area that might benefit from logging. It already was part of the Lester Mountain Timber Sale, which was approved in 1998, but the prescribed cutting there was on a smaller scale.

Officials reworked a portion of the timber sale in September so the Bighorn Lumber Co. would clear out most the burned trees this winter, before the wood goes bad.

Without the bark, the wood will split and rot by next summer and probably wouldn't be worth anything to logging companies.

This logging project is expected to help forest regeneration because the fire was so hot in this area that the topsoil was unable to produce vegetation very quickly.

Water won't soak into the soil until it is dispersed, Cadenhead said.

"The fire itself created a water repellent," he said.

As the heavy equipment runs over the ground and drags trees around the forest, the topsoil is displaced and mixes with the soil underneath. That will allow water to seep into the ground and encourage grasses to grow in more quickly.

"This is probably the best opportunity we have," Cadenhead said. "Most of the fire was in areas where we would not want to salvage."

Jerry Heggie operated a delimber on Friday in the dead stand.

He was one of the three men in three different machines cutting and preparing the trees for travel. The delimber picked up the already cut and stacked trees and peeled off the limbs.

In the distance, a fellar buncher machine cut each spruce down and carried it to a pile.

A man working with a skidder drug and stacked the timber for Heggie.

The wood is taken to Laramie, Wyo., to be milled and is then usually sold to commercial construction outlet stores, such as Home Depot, Cadenhead said.

Heggie said working with trees killed by fire is different than any other logging work he's done.

"You have to do everything a little bit easier with every piece," he said.

The fire made the wood harder, which means it's more brittle and apt to break when the giant logging machines cut, stack and delimb the trees, Heggie said.

About 31,000 acres burned in the Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs and 4,400 acres burned south of the city.

Next summer, the Forest Service will look for other ways to encourage forest regeneration from the 2002 fires.

Only emergency rehabilitation has been done on the forest so far, such as reclaiming fire lines and controlling fall erosion by seeding.

The logging at Coulton Creek marks the next phase in the Forest Service's post-fire reaction.

"This is the first thing that we are doing that is not under the umbrella of emergency rehab," Cadenhead said.

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