Community Agriculture Alliance: Ushering in the new forest

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— Private landowners and public land managers are busy harvesting the abundant dead lodgepole pine from the local landscape.

Beetle-killed trees are being removed at a rate of about 600 acres a month on the Routt National Forest, according to Jamie Kingsbury, Hahn's Peak/Bear Ears District Ranger.

"The removal of dead trees, along with planting nearly three-quarters of a million seedlings in the past decade, is helping to usher in the new forest," Kingsbury said.

The Routt National Forest has 25 active timber sales.

"We're protecting the young lodgepole and all of the other species while we remove the dead lodgepole. Harvesting the dead trees provides wood products for the nation and establishes favorable conditions for the next forest," forester Andy Cadenhead said.

Nine contractors are logging, some local and some from Oregon and Montana. Most of the timber is going to Intermountain Resources in Montrose.

"In 10 years, there won't be any more red trees, and we'll have a new green forest full of young trees," Cadenhead said. He said the dead trees that remain in the forest will have fallen to the ground and will be less noticeable. They will be home to insects and eventually rot away, returning nutrients to the soil.

The young trees that exist now will grow rapidly.

"We'll be surprised at how big they are in a few years. Forests are very resilient," Cadenhead said.

Other crews are working diligently to remove hazard trees from developed campgrounds, trailheads and trails to reduce the risk of these falling when people are in the area. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Hot Shot wildland firefighting crews and Forest Service employees removed more than 1,600 dead trees from Hahn's Peak Lake Campground and about 800 from Hinman Park Campground. Last summer, SmartWool employees planted 600 seedlings at Hinman, starting the new forest. More trees will be planted next year.

Private contractors also are busy removing dead trees from the state campgrounds surrounding Steamboat and Pearl lakes.

The Colorado State Forest Service is working with private landowners and managing state lands in Routt County - about a thousand acres during the past year. District Forester John Twitchell thinks that is probably a small percentage of what is happening on private lands.

"One bright spot in the poor wood market is that much of the timber coming off private lands is being used locally, and there is a growing awareness of the 'green' advantages of building with beetle-kill," Twitchell said.

Routt County's Bark Beetle Information Task Force plans to host community and youth tree-planting events next year to celebrate the Task Force's 10th anniversary. It was formed as an educational group after the Routt Divide Blowdown, a windstorm that uprooted 13,000 acres of trees on the Routt National Forest, triggered a spruce beetle epidemic. The drought-triggered pine beetle epidemic was unforeseen at the time.

Diann Ritschard is a public information officer for the Routt National Forest.

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