Toponas Forest officials on Friday released a draft plan to address exploding beetle populations around Gore Pass.
The proposal, which involves almost 75,000 acres of forest, is one of the largest in the nation coming through the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. That new legislation is meant to streamline management of federal lands that have a high risk of catastrophic wildfire and large-scale insect and disease epidemics.
Such risks are exactly what forests are facing around Gore Pass between Toponas and Kremmling, said Oscar Martinez, U.S. Forest Service ranger for the Yampa District of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.
The Rock Creek Integrated Management Project proposes various actions to lessen the risks: thinning trees on about 15,000 acres; removing, burning, or peeling beetle-infested trees; spraying with pesticide high-value trees, such as those at campgrounds; and making changes to some roads to prepare for expected increases in water flow.
The area addressed by the draft plan is almost entirely on Forest Service land, with a smaller area managed by the Bureau of Land Management as well as a small section of state and private land. The management proposal is a joint effort by the Forest Service and BLM.
The proposal area consists mostly of mature lodgepole pine trees, which are susceptible to mountain pine beetles, Martinez said. With recent drought, beetle populations in the area have grown exponentially.
In 2002, there were 279 acres and 480 trees affected by beetles; in 2004, there were 40,000 acres and 15,000 trees affected.
As beetles cover more ground and leave more dead trees in their wake, large-scale forest fires could follow.
That sort of boom-and-bust cycle is natural in the forest. But the Forest Service is charged with managing the forest for uses such as timber, recreation, wildlife and views, Martinez said, making it unacceptable for nature to take its course in this case.
The goal of the draft plan is to minimize the spread of the beetles and prevent large-scale affects. Work will be done for the next five years.
"At that point, the beetles will have either beaten us to the punch," or enough changes will have been made to keep the beetle explosion under control, Martinez said.
Although the Healthy Forests Restoration Act makes it faster to propose and start a project such as this one, the Forest Service is not cutting any corners, Martinez said. All required studies and analyses are being done, but under the act, only one alternative needs to be compared to a "no action" alternative.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rock Creek Integrated Management Project is available online at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects.
Public comment will be taken for 45 days after June 3. Those comments could be used to make changes, then a final decision would be issued and there would be a 30-day objection period.
The Forest Service and BLM will hold a brief public meeting followed by a field trip to the project area June 22. Anyone interested should meet at 10 a.m. at the Yampa Ranger District office at 300 Roselawn St. in Yampa.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org