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Vegetation management project approved for Piedra Creek area

The Pagosa Creek area of the San Juan National Forest has been approved for a vegetation management project by the U.S. Forest Service.

At the beginning of this month, Pagosa District Ranger Kevin Khung signed the Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact, moving the project one step closer to being prepped for work.

The Pagosa Creek area consists of a small amount of ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, spruce-fir and aspen and sits south of the east fork of the Piedra River and north of the watershed boundary. This means the area has roadless lands to the east and private lands to the west.

According to forester Steve Hartvigsen, the project will include noxious weed treatment, a mix of cutting and removing trees, as well as limited burning due to the proximity to private lands. The project will also include the decommissioning of .4 miles of redundant roads and the addition of .7 miles of cleared roads not yet in the USFS road system.

Hartvigsen added that, since some of the creeks in that area are known to be cutthroat trout habitat, the forest service will fix some of the crossings to keep vehicles from damaging the creek bed.

Hartvigsen explained that the idea for the project came about when he and his wife were heading out to hike on Pagosa Peak and noticed a large number of dead and dying trees — caused by the spruce beetle and Douglas fir beetle, both of which have reached epidemic levels in the Pagosa Creek area.

“The key objective is forest health,” Hartvigsen said.

The area, Hartvigsen said, had been treated and harvested in the ’60s.

“The trees cut to the greatest extent were large Douglas fir which happens to be the species and size of tree not in a great abundance,” Hartvigsen said.

The eastern half was very heavily harvested so it now includes fewer large trees. The western area, however, has some larger Douglas fir trees. Due to this difference in makeup, Hartvigsen said the western portion might be viable for a timber sale due to the high number of large-diameter, elderly Douglas fir. The eastern portion of the area, though, has potential for use by biomass projects, which might happen through either a stewardship or service contract.

The difference in makeup in the trees alters which implementation tools the Forest Service uses. For smaller diameter trees, biomass projects would effectively treat the issue. However, larger diameter trees are too big for the machinery and are of interest to larger saw mills.

For the past year, the Forest Service has been putting together the Pagosa Area Biomass Utilization Long-term Stewardship project, a 10-year project. The project description states that between 1 and 1.25 million green tons of trees on about 50,000 acres are in need of removal. In order to ensure that there is 10 years worth of forest restoration work, the Pagosa Ranger District has lined up 6 to 7 years worth of NEPA approved projects. Amongst these is a portion of the Pagosa Creek Forest Vegetation Management Project.

To appeal the decision, an individual or group must have provided a comment or otherwise expresses interest in this project during the formal comment period. Appeals to this project may be filed within 45 days of today. They can be submitted by mail or hand-delivery to USDA Forest Service Region 2, Appeals Deciding Officer, 740 Simms St., Golden, CO 80401, or by face to (303) 275-5134. Electronic appeals may be submitted to Appellants are required to simultaneously send a copy to Mark Stiles, Forest Supervisor, 15 Burnett Ct., Durango, CO 81301.

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