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Audubon Society members free the trees

The weather was cold. The sun was hidden. The air was moist.

The mountains, when glimpsed through the gray clouds, were dusted with snow.

Yet, still, in spite of the inclement weather, members from the Weminuche Audubon Society gathered at Gordon Creek in San Juan National Forest last Saturday to set the trees free. Because, contrary to the popular stereotype of the Audubon Society, the members do more than look at birds.

“We are a lot bigger than that,” said Dottie George, vice president of the Weminuche chapter. George explained that WAS is concerned with habitat preservation because it’s important not only for birds, but for all types of wildlife.

Recent projects have included a San Brito wetlands trash cleanup, planting willows along Mill Creek to prevent erosion of the stream banks, and improving and lengthening the Piedra Trail in Navajo State Park.

From the size of WAS, it is clear that many local people care about wildlife and habitat conservation. Member Mike Ward says that, for environmental projects, around 50 to 70 people will come out. WAS altogether, though, has 350 members.

Many of these members had come out before to set little trees in Gordon Creek free. Last year, a group of 36 people gathered to release the trees. Now, the “hardcore” members came to finish off the job.

For those familiar with tree planting, a cone-like apparatus is placed around a newly-planted tree.

U.S. National Forest Service forester Gretchen Fitzgerald, the forester in charge of the shelter removal project, explained that the shelter is placed around a newly planted tree to protect it from both too much sun and animals. Once the trees are well-established, the shelter is not needed.

The Gordon Creek area, 160 acres, was harvested in 1998 to create open spaces for Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine to regenerate.

According to law, Fitzgerald said, if the area does not naturally regenerate, the Forest Service must plant trees.

“When an area is cut, it must come back as forest,” Fitzgerald said. “A forest can’t be converted to a meadow.”

In Gordon Creek, the target for tree regeneration was 200 trees per acre. In 2003, it was decided that not enough trees had regenerated, so 500 Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees per acre were planted. When they were planted, photodegradable shelters were used. In the sunlight, the shelters were supposed to deteriorate. After five years, it was noticed that the shelters were not breaking down. Two years ago, it was evident that the shelters were not going to be degrading anytime soon.

If left on the trees, the shelters could girdle the tree, killing it. Expecting the shelters to photodegrade, though, the Forest Service did not budget for shelter removal. The Weminuche Audubon Society stepped in and has saved many new trees in Gordon Creek.

The Weminuche Audubon Society meets the third Wednesday of every month at the Ross Aragon Community Center. Speakers give presentations and different projects are discussed at the meetings. The public is welcome to all WAS events.

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