Logging set for areas hit by pine beetle infestation | SteamboatToday.com

Logging set for areas hit by pine beetle infestation

Mike Lawrence

— A massive tree-removal project will affect areas including Spring Creek, Fish Creek, Burgess Creek and the base of Steamboat Ski Area in an effort to mitigate hazards created by the bark beetle epidemic.

Contractor Rogue Resources is scheduling more than a year for the project, which city Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth said will start in mid-December in the Spring Creek area. Tree removal for the entire project is planned on about 305 acres split among 30 units, involving 135 landowners, Lindroth said, from the Spring Creek area to Storm Mountain Ranch at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass. The city of Steamboat Springs has received a $1 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Colorado State Forest Service for removal of trees that present a wildfire risk in the Steamboat area.

"Before we go in and do any fuels mitigation, all property owners will be contacted with a letter, and we'll set up a public meeting in that area," Lindroth said. He said all affected property owners would receive a letter by the end of December. Lindroth said work at the base of Mount Werner is planned on about 20 acres across four units and will occur during mud season in the spring, so as to not affect ski season activity.

The tree removal project could stretch into summer 2011, he said.

The mountain pine beetle has devastated forests across the Rocky Mountain West in recent years. In January 2008, the U.S. Forest Service said Colorado's bark beetle infestation reached 1.5 million acres, affecting nearly all of the state's lodgepole pines. Stretches of red, dead pines now are familiar sights in Northwest Colorado, in the Flat Tops and Mount Zirkel wilderness areas and on Emerald Mountain, Mount Werner and more.

Lindroth and Deb Funston, the fire agency's public education coordinator, cited numerous dangers presented by dead or dying trees, especially in areas adjacent to homes or commercial property — areas known in forestry jargon as the wildland/urban interface.

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Dangers include wildfire; windstorms that could blow trees onto people or power lines; mudslides; trees falling from heavy snow weight; and watershed contamination, such as by a rainstorm that follows a fire and carries ash into creeks.

"Hazardous tree removal in relation to blowdown is a big issue with this, in addition to fires," Lindroth said.

The Fire Rescue agency will work with Rogue Resources to "ensure public safety is accounted for in each of the cutting units," Lindroth said.

Mike Miller, of Rogue Resources, could not be reached for this story.

Lindroth said work in the Spring Creek area would be conducted along the public trail, to 100 feet from both sides, to remove trees that could be hazardous to hikers and mountain bikers.

Public access to the trail "will be limited, if not fully curtailed" while logging is under way, he said.

Dates for cutting in specific units are not finalized.

"So much of the timeline is dependent on how the winter proceeds," Lindroth said.

Funston said Rogue Resources played a huge role in helping the city secure the grant funding.

"They were very instrumental in the early stages of the grant," she said.

City Manager Jon Roberts said the city applied for $1.6 million but received only $1 million, so officials had to scale back the project.

National issue

Last week, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., discussed the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act of 2009, a bill he is sponsoring with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. Udall said he introduced the bill in the Senate this month to help streamline the battle against bark beetles, which he called "one of the biggest natural disasters we face in the West."

The bill would remove logistical hurdles for collaborating agencies and set up financial incentives for using removed trees as biofuels, among other provisions.

"This is not a money bill. It does not authorize tens of millions or hundreds of millions of additional dollars," Udall said. "There are ways in which we can prioritize what the Forest Service is doing … to direct resources to really make a difference."

Late Tuesday morning, a fat brown envelope authorizing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant sat on Lindroth's desk.

He said it had arrived five minutes ago in the office he's held since beginning work as the city fire chief Nov. 2.

He came to Steamboat from a job with the Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins. Lindroth said "the beetles are on their way there" and have been noticeable for about two years on Cameron Pass.

Roberts said in September that Lindroth's knowledge of bark beetles led to his hiring. But the new fire chief wasn't aware of the job that would immediately fall on his desk.

"This is a big undertaking," Lindroth said about the tree removal project. "The week before I started, I learned about the project."

"Welcome to Steamboat," Funston quipped.

On the job

The tree removal project will create or retain the equivalent of 10.3 full-time jobs, shared through 31 positions with contractor Rogue Resources. Six of the positions are new. Those are an equipment operator, equivalent to one-fifth of a full-time employee; a chocker setter, equivalent to two-fifths of an FTE; and a log truck driver, two flaggers and a mechanic, each equivalent to half an FTE.

Full-time equivalency is based on 2,080 work hours per year.

Although Rogue expects cutting and treatment to take 26 weeks, at about 12 acres per week, the 305-acre tree removal project has been scheduled during 53 weeks because of winter weather and scheduling conflicts with property owners, who include Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. During down time, workers will work on snow removal crews with Rogue Resources or work with the U.S. Forest Service.

Sources: Rogue Resources and Winnie DelliQuadri, grant writer for the city of Steamboat Springs