Community Agriculture Alliance: Routt entering new era of forest restoration

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For more than a decade, Routt National Forest managers have directed much of their attention to the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has resulted in mortality of mature pine species across approximately 4 million acres in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.

Consequently, most of our forest management work has been focused on actions to reduce or remove the most pressing threats to public health and safety. Specific activities have included removing dead and dying trees from key infrastructure such as developed campgrounds, roadsides and power line corridors, as well as reducing hazardous fuels adjacent to communities.

With most of the important emergency mitigation work complete, in progress or underway, Routt National Forest managers now are shifting focus to accelerating restoration of future forest stands. As the epidemic fades away with the disappearance of red-needled canopies and the emergence of green seedlings, it is important for forest managers to reflect on what contributed to the epidemic and carry those lessons forward in fostering the new forest.

While there is plenty of scientific explanation behind what has transpired, naturally occurring beetle populations essentially spiked to epidemic levels. The combination of old, dense forests that lacked diversity, along with prolonged drought and warm winters have all contributed to this “perfect storm” scenario. With this in mind, National Forest managers are using a variety of proven tools to accelerate restoration of a forest that is diverse in age and species composition, and resilient when subjected to stressors such as drought or insects. Examples include mechanical thinning and, where objectives can be accomplished safely and effectively, prescribed burning.

We are encouraged and thankful to have partners in a rebounding timber industry and a strongly emerging biomass industry to assist in these efforts. Active forest management will yield a variety of viable and sustainable forest products (e.g. biomass for energy, paper and pellets, as well as boards), jobs for surrounding communities and a healthy, diverse forest.

To inform and expand public knowledge about the past, present and future aspects of the pine beetle epidemic, the Medicine Bow-Routt national forests are partnering with the University of Wyoming, Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources to host a series of community outreach and education events. One of three community events will be held in Steamboat Springs from 6 to 8 p.m. May 28 at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave. UW Professor Dan Tinker will kick off the evening with a short presentation about the ecology and future of lodgepole pine ecosystems in our area. This will be followed by an open house forum where the public can learn more about the specific actions that the Hahn’s Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District has taken to date in response to the epidemic and what it has planned moving forward in the new era of forest restoration.

To learn more about these and other programs on the Routt National Forest, visit http://fs.usda.gov/mbr, or follow the MBRTB on Twitter @MBRNFsTBNG.

Larry W. Sandoval Jr. is the public affairs officer for Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. He can be reached at 307-745-2420.

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