Community Agriculture Alliance: Beware of falling trees

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— The Forest Service would like to remind people to be extra careful when recreating in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests this summer. Safety of employees and the public is the Forest Service’s highest priority in the aftermath of the beetle epidemic. Almost all of the mature lodgepole pine were killed by the mountain pine beetle, and they are beginning to fall down. It’s estimated that about 100,000 dead trees will fall in the forest each day for the next decade or so. The average dead lodgepole pine tree weighs about 1,000 pounds and can fall without warning, so it’s critical that you “look up, look down, look all around” and stay out of harm’s way.

On the Routt National Forest, 428 miles of trails and 1,139 miles of roads have dead trees along them. For the past few years, the Forest Service has been cutting down the dead trees — called “hazard” trees — from campgrounds, trailheads and along forest roads to provide for greater public safety. The city of Steamboat Springs has removed dead trees from along Spring Creek Trail to make it safer for hikers and bicyclists. Colorado State Forest Service works with subdivisions and private landowners to provide grants and expertise in removing dead trees. The Forest Service also is working with power companies on the removal of dead trees that could fall on power lines and disrupt service or start wildland fires.

Last year, the Forest Service contracted for the removal of dead trees along 150 miles of Routt National Forest roads; in 2010, roadside hazard trees will be removed from another 135 miles. Removal occurs to a distance equal to three tree heights from the center line of the roads, so when the trees fall, they will not land on roads. Last year, about 200 acres of dead trees were removed from campgrounds on the Routt National Forest, and another 200 acres will be removed this year. Some roads and campgrounds will be closed temporarily while this work takes place. It’s unsafe for the public to be in the area while loggers are taking down trees. Please contact the nearest Forest Service office for the latest information on which roads, trails and campgrounds will be closed temporarily.

In addition, the Forest Service will remove dead trees in the wildland urban interface on about 1,330 acres this year. These are trees on the national forest adjacent to private land. This effort will help protect homes in the event of a wildland fire. In keeping with the Wilderness Act, standing dead and dying trees will not be felled or removed within Wilderness Area boundaries.

Last fiscal year, 63,124 cubic feet of dead trees were removed from the Routt National Forest. About 10 cubic feet equals one truckload of logs. In fiscal year 2010, 47,231 cubic feet will be removed from the Routt National Forest. Similar efforts are ongoing on the Medicine Bow, Arapaho-Roosevelt and White River National Forests.

Remember to stay aware of your surroundings when in the national forest. Don’t park or camp where a tree could fall on your vehicle or equipment. Stay out of the forest when there are strong winds. Avoid dense patches of trees; they can fall without warning. Don’t rely only on cell phones for safety, as there is no coverage in many areas of the forest. You are ultimately responsible for your safety, so don’t forget to “look up, look down and look around.”

Diann Ritschard is a public affairs officer for Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.

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