Caution urged in Colorado's changing forests

Falling trees present a hazard to visitors in wooded areas

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— Local U.S. Forest Service officials are asking skiers, snowmobilers and others to be cautious as strong winds recently took down a large number of trees in the nearby Medicine Bow National Forest.

“We had three or four days of sustained winds of 30 miles per hour plus gusts of 50,” said Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos, who works out of the Laramie, Wyo., office.

The fallen trees from late last week was not a large-scale incident that would rise to the definition of a blowdown. An Oct. 25, 1997, winter storm produced heavy snows and blizzard conditions, and high easterly winds helped to flatten 20,000 acres of old-growth forest in the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

The most recent wave of fallen trees occurred mostly in southern Wyoming, where people reported trees across roadways.

Nevertheless, the Forest Service is taking the opportunity to ask people to be cautious in the forest, which is riddled with beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees.

“With Christmas tree-cutting season upon us and the start of ski and snowmobile season nearing, visitors need to be aware that the mountain pine beetle epidemic has increased the risk of falling trees,” said Phil Cruz, Medicine Bow-Routt Forest supervisor, in a press release. “Please be aware of your surroundings while visiting areas affected by the epidemic.”

Dead trees that have red needles or no needles at all are not the only trees people need to be cautious of in high winds.

“Green trees left after fuels reduction or hazard tree removal treatments are also susceptible to windthrow due to removal of the trees around them,” the release states.

The Forest Service offers these tips:

■ Be aware of your surroundings and avoid dense patches of dead trees.

■ Stay out of the forest when weather forecasts call for strong winds.

■ If you get caught in the forest when winds kick up, head to a clearing out of reach of any potential falling trees.

■ If winter camping, place tents in areas where they will not be hit if trees fall.

■ Snowmobilers may want to bring an ax or chainsaw to remove fallen trees from trails to avoid being trapped.

■ Do not rely on cellphones for safety as there is no coverage in many areas of the forest.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247

or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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