A plan to send logging trucks through the Town of Crested Butte as part of a long-term effort by the U.S. Forest Service to improve forest health is causing concern among residents. Yet, Forest Service officials say they’re willing to listen to all objections to the plan and find ways to mitigate concerns.
The plan is part of the Spruce Beetle Epidemic and Aspen Decline Management Response (SBEADMR), launched by the Forest Service in 2016. SBEADMR (see related article on page A8) is a forest-wide project which allows commercial and non-commercial vegetation treatments in response to the problems of spruce beetle infestation and sudden aspen decline.
To date, those threats have affected more than 300,000 acres of spruce-fir forest and 230,000 acres of aspen on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG). And scientists report spruce beetle infestations are accelerating due to climate change.
The adaptive management plan has targeted areas of treatment over a 10-year span. An area near Ohio Pass and Splains Gulch is a priority for treatment — one of three areas near Crested Butte identified by the Forest Service.
On Tuesday, Gunnison District Ranger Matt McCombs detailed before Crested Butte Town Council aspects of the plan in which a logging company would be contracted to thin 2,000 acres. Logs would be loaded and hauled through Crested Butte on Whiterock Avenue to Hwy. 135 enroute to Montrose for milling. Crested Butte is the preferred route for trucks, although two other possible routes have been identified.
The plan likely would be implemented sometime in 2021 or 2022.
McCombs said the science behind the treatments shows that they improve the resiliency of the forest to insect infestation and disease. The spruce beetle, he said, is on a “march” northward from southern areas of the GMUG and may soon consume many more trees if not intervened.
“The design of the proposed ... treatment is to make these stands more resilient by creating gaps, replicating fire effects as much as we possibly can on the landscape and creating open patches through clear cutting existing spruce, creating gaps and age differences between young and old trees,” McCombs said. “We target older trees which are more susceptible to beetle infestation and we’ll take no more than 25 percent of wood fiber.”
But those who live on Whiterock Avenue worry about the traffic from heavy trucks driving down their road. Resident Alan Peterson wrote a letter to Town Council and had several other neighbors sign copies.
Peterson spoke at Tuesday’s meeting saying his daughter — a first grader — and many other children ride their bikes on Whiterock.
“There are kids that play on those streets. The skate park is there and the Nordic Center, and the street has got 15-20 kids playing there. There aren’t good days or hours (for truck traffic),” said Peterson. “I personally know friends of friends who have died under the wheels of commercial trucks. It’s not theoretical and it is a major devastating event for an entire community for something like that to happen.”
Longtime resident Denis Hall said he remembered logging trucks coming through Crested Butte 40 years ago when another forest treatment and logging operation was conducted. He said even at 15 miles per hour, the trucks posed a danger. He also questioned the data that McCombs presented on the project.
Yet, others complained about potential impacts to recreationists if one-way traffic and road closures are established on Ohio Pass.
McCombs said Ohio and Kebler passes could be considered as alternatives if road improvements were made. Yet, he said the narrowness of both routes, number of switchbacks and lack of turn-offs made the roads undesirable. He estimated the cost of improving either of the routes at $1.2 million to $1.5 million.
McCombs noted Gunnison County leaders have expressed interest in improving Kebler Pass Road but also said he could not speak for them.
Other types of treatments, McCombs said, such as pesticides and pheromone traps, are too cost prohibitive for the area. Those types of treatments are reserved for highly visible sites such as trailheads.
High Country Conservation Advocates’ Matt Reed asked McCombs what kind of public input would be taken and when would it occur. SBEADMR includes an annual public input process including a field trip for county commissioners, stakeholders and community members.
McCombs suggested more input could be offered to the Forest Service next year on the logging plans.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .)