Logging planned for N. Routt forest

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Logging is planned for 735 acres of national forest at the southern edges of Little Red and Big Red Park in northern Routt County.

The aim of the treatments is to save at least some trees from exploding beetle populations in the 31,000-acre area of Routt National Forest at the northern end of the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.

More than 80 percent of the project area, called the Little Snake Analysis Area, already is designated for timber production under the overall plan for the Routt National Forest. There also are areas within the project area managed for recreation.

Cutting some of the trees now could prevent the entire mature forest from dying, said Andy Cadenhead, a U.S. Forest Service forester with the Routt National Forest. Such a turnover of the forest could negatively effect timber production and recreation.

The key purpose of the logging is to thin out some areas of forest, making the trees left more resilient to future beetle attacks. Keeping some mature, living trees would provide screening and scenery for recreation and some timber-production opportunities.

So far, Cadenhead said he has been "underwhelmed" by concerns. Public comment about the project recently ended, and comments are being compiled and considered.

There was an open house for the project at the end of May, which only a few people attended. Most of those attending supported the project, Cadenhead said.

Cadenhead attributes the lack of comments to having a good plan and to the visible effect beetles already have had.

"People up there are seeing that the forest is changing rapidly," Cadenhead said.

The plan will create short-term effects on recreation, he said. For instance, while logging is taking place, recreation could be displaced or dispersed. Also, some logging is planned for an area adjacent to part of the historic Ellis Trail and Wagon Road.

A potential conflict centers on Forest Service Road 550, which will be the main access to the forest for logging and is the main snowmobiling route in northern Routt County in the winter. The USFS is working on ways to extend the logging season without jeopardizing winter recreation, Cadenhead said.

The most recent logging in the area took place about a decade ago, and another round of logging has been considered for the past few years, Cadenhead said. But since beetle populations started to take off, the plans shifted slightly to the overall goal of maintaining some stands of green, living trees in the area.

Most spruce trees in the area already have been affected heavily by spruce beetles. This project focuses on Lodgepole Pine trees, the most prevalent tree in the area, and the mountain pine beetle.

Clearcutting is proposed for 170 acres of forest. Through the treatment, all dead, beetle-infested trees that can be sold will be cut to reduce fuel build-up and to regenerate a new stand. The other 565 acres will be cut partially, with some trees taken out to promote a healthier stand and to improve the likelihood that the stand will be resilient to a future beetle attack.

When an environmental assessment is published, people will have 30 days to object. Preparatory work could begin this fall, and the timber sale could take place this winter or next spring, Cadenhead said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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