Community agriculture alliance: Planting trees makes for a healthy forest

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Did you know the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District plants an average of 60,000 trees a year? Forester Jeff Hartling said the forests in this area regenerate very well naturally, but after the Routt Divide Blowdown in 1997 and the wildfires that burned 38,000 acres in 2002, crews have worked diligently to help nature regenerate the forest.

Last year, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps volunteers and Forest Service fire crews planted 68,000 lodgepole pines and Englemann spruce seedlings to replace trees harvested and to supplement natural regeneration in areas that burned during the fires. Seeds from the Routt National Forest are sent to the Bessey Nursery in Nebraska and stored until the Forest Service orders them. The seeds then are sowed and the little trees sent back to the Routt National Forest. Usually, the 6- to 8-inch-tall seedlings arrive in the spring and fall, but last year, they all arrived in the fall.

Hartling said planting seedlings is brutal work, stooped over for 12-hour days in the sun for days on end. It's often rugged, rocky terrain. Last year was even more challenging because all the planting had to be done in the fall.

"During the 17 days we planted last year, the temperature went from 80 degrees to 35 degrees. It snowed a foot on Sept. 18," he said.

The 68,000 trees were planted about 7 inches deep in the soil. Hartling expects a 90 percent survival rate.

During the second half of June this year, crews planted 48,000 seedlings. Another 24,000 seedlings will be planted this fall. Those trees will provide wildlife habitat, shade, scenic beauty and seeds for the nursery. The Forest Service has certain areas where the management emphasis is timber production. Emphasis in other areas include recreation, grazing, municipal watershed/water quality, wilderness, wildlife habitat and research.

Planting trees will ensure we have healthy forests for generations to come.

Ritschard is a public affairs specialist with the Medicine Bow and Routt national forests.

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