Forest mitigation work addresses wildfire threat and protects water supply
As the season opened this year, skiers and riders at Monarch Mountain saw recent timber harvests that are part of the Monarch Pass Forest & Watershed Health Project.
The collaborative stewardship between the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative and the U.S. Forest Service reduces threats from wildfire in the Arkansas River headwaters.
The project brings an innovative approach to removing beetle kill on steep slopes, using specialized equipment that minimizes the environmental impact to soil and the remaining live trees, while reducing forest treatment costs in comparison to helicopter logging.
About 90% of the spruce trees bigger than 5 inches on Monarch Pass have died due to insect infestation.
The contractor began removing beetle-kill trees south of the ski area at Monarch Park Campground and is extending work to the gondola at the top of the pass. Nearly 200 acres were treated this year with a cut-to-length (CTL) forwarder that fells the trees, removes their branches, and cuts them into logs before they are transported and loaded onto trucks.
Contractor Miller Timber Services, based in Oregon, specializes in CTL logging using Ponsse equipment from Finland. The equipment was first used in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, but Miller realized its value in the West’s extreme topography, ARWC lead forester and project manager Andy Lerch said.
The eight-wheeled machinery can operate on 70% slopes with the use of tracks and a winch secured by a cable at the top of the slope. A 60-foot swath of timber can be harvested as the machine descends the mountain, removing limbs and cutting logs as it goes.
Things look different, but this will help promote the next generation of the forest. Over time, the project area will change to a more natural look.”Andy Lerch, ARWC Lead Forester and Project Manager
Funding partners secured by ARWC include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Chaffee County, the City of Salida, the Town of Poncha Springs, the Town of Buena Vista, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs Utilities and Trout Unlimited, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, project partner and primary funder.
Heavy forest fuel loads combine with recent warmer, drier temperatures and bigger wind events to create high wildfire risk as well as more frequent and intense fires. ARWC and the U.S. Forest Service are members of the Envision Forest Health Council, which developed a long-range plan to address the risk with up to 30,000 acres of forest treatments by 2030, to halve the risk severe wildfire poses to people, structures and natural resources.
The Monarch Pass Forest & Watershed Health Project protects the upper reaches of an important water collection and distribution system. It also protects important infrastructure and provides for firefighter and public safety.