BLM seeks public comment on tree thinning project on Emerald Mountain
Resource specialists from the Bureau of Land Management will be conducting an environmental review of 525 acres of land on the south and west sides of Emerald Mountain near Steamboat Springs prior to a planned tree thinning and forest health project later this year.
BLM Recreation Program Park Ranger Gary Keeling in Craig said one reason for the proposed work is the safety of recreationists from possible falling trees in an area that has been hard hit by beetle infestations.
“Use of the area for recreation is being negatively impacted by dead and down timber, and the density of dead and diseased trees is increasing the risk of severe and intense fire adjacent to residential and urban communities,” according to the BLM presentation at a public meeting on Feb. 16.
During the meeting in Steamboat, officials from the BLM and Colorado State Forest Service explained the tree thinning and forest health project will be completed cooperatively through a Good Neighbor Authority process that allows state agencies to assist on federal lands.
Organizers say work may begin as early as August following completion of the environmental assessment and address some 192 acres that are part of a large mountain pine beetle epidemic area from the early 2000s.
“This epidemic caused nearly 100% mortality in the lodgepole pine overstory,” according to the BLM. “The project area is currently experiencing an outbreak of western balsam bark beetle that is causing substantial mortality in subalpine fir.”
“These mortality events have been magnified by drought, causing a decrease in forest health and an increase in the likelihood of severe, high intensity fire,” according to the BLM.
The project consists of hazard reduction, slash pile burning in winter and potential timber salvage sales within the 4,500-acre BLM Emerald Mountain Special Recreation Management Area. The area located on the Cow Creek side of Emerald Mountain includes the Rotary, Ridge and Beall trails. Keeling said some trail closures may be implemented during the tree thinning work, which will include thinning by hand as well as mechanical equipment treatments where access is available along a power line road.
“This project would reduce hazardous fuels through the Good Neighbor Authority, which allows the BLM to enter into agreements for critical work to keep forests healthy. Reduction of fuels can improve wildfire resiliency and wildlife habitat, while helping to restore healthy public lands,” a BLM news release said.
People interested in learning more about the project or in submitting a comment during the environmental review process can find the project website at eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2023309/510 and submit a comment through March 21. The National Environmental Policy Act process will review impacts to water, animals, threatened and endangered plant species, cultural resources, and range and grazing permits, Keeling said.
Project organizers spoke during the Routt Recreation and Conservation Roundtable meeting on Feb. 9, noting workers will try to reduce impacts to wildlife during the work and the project will improve wildlife habitat in the long term.
In July, the Western Area Power Administration will perform road work prior to vegetation management planned for late summer under the power line running through the area, according to Andrea Severson, the adminstration’s natural resource specialist, who attended the roundtable meeting.
Forester Carolina Manriquez with the Colorado State Forest Service and a member of the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council said the project is important to reduce fuels since ember showers from an intense fire in that area could travel on winds from the west as far as downtown Steamboat. Manriquez said the forthcoming work is the start of long-term forest health efforts needed in the 4,500-acre BLM recreation area.
“The hope is to renew the forest, remove some of the dead trees, lower the fuels and give space for new trees to regenerate,” Manriquez said at the roundtable meeting. “We are very excited that is finally happening. This is a major priority to lower fire risk in this area.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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