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Mixed Conifer Working Group brings forest issues to the public

What is happening to the forests?

What do the dying trees mean for wildlife, for watershed, for recreation opportunities?

Can humans help mitigate any of these changes?

What priorities should drive management in the mixed conifer forests?

How can the Forest Service optimize the balance of environment, societal desires and the economy?

These are only some of the questions asked, discussed, researched and dissected by the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group.

The group held an educational work session on Oct. 25 in hopes to create a dialogue with the general public and all curious and/or concerned citizens. The public in attendance, around 25 people, rose to the challenge with engaging questions, guided by environmentally-aware intellectual curiosity.

Steve Hartvigsen, forester at the Pagosa Ranger District (PRD), presented a power point presentation on some of the group’s concerns.

“I thought the presentation was well-received,” Hartvigsen said in a phone interview with SUN staff.

Hartvigsen said that the first phase of the group’s activity was to become educated and aware of the issues of mixed conifer forests in the San Juan National Forests. The second phase, which the group is now entering, is to set parameters for how to apply treatment and then make recommendations to District Ranger Kevin Khung for the PRD.

Some of the parameters the group has already singled out include: reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, restoring ecosystems to more natural conditions, protecting the urban water supply, sustaining recreation opportunities, improving wildlife habitat and applying treatments, thinning and prescribed burning close to the wildland urban interface.

“We will never approach the level of needed acres treated with the assets at our disposal,” Hartivgsen said, adding, “Around 30,000 acres per year could be treated; and right now, we’re lucky to treat 2,000 to 3,000 acres. That’s why prioritizing is critical.”

Another point of emphasis for the group is how to best educate the public as to what is happening in the forests and what is being done, and can be done.

“It takes time to educate, and we recognize that,” Hartvigsen said. One way of doing this discussed by the group was to educate the younger members of the community. Though no program is set up as of yet, Hartivgsen thinks it is something that the mixed-conifer group could easily arrange and implement.

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