If you’ve had the opportunity to take a drive up Fourmile Road to view the changing colors this fall, you may have noticed a forest thinning project about five miles from town.
This project is just one of several efforts throughout the county to reduce the threat of high-intensity wildfire and to restore health to our forests.
Currently, tree stand density is elevated above historic norms due to lack of harvesting and fire. This means the trees must compete for sunlight and moisture. When you add sustained drought, you have stressed trees that are more susceptible to severe crown fires, versus historic ground fires that cleared understory but didn’t kill mature trees.
Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) announced recently that it has been awarded a grant from the Colorado Forest Restoration Grant Program for a tree-thinning project on Reservoir Hill.
This project addresses 52 acres of ponderosa pine/mixed conifer woodlands located within town limits on Reservoir Hill.
According to the grant proposal, “Fire suppression and a lack of timber harvesting has left this area highly overgrown with ladder fuels and at risk of high intensity wildfire. Camping in the park during events heightens the risk of ignition and danger to visitors and fire fighters.”
A fire on Reservoir Hill could be disastrous. Town and county assets would be in harm’s way. The Ross Aragon Community Center, Town Hall, the post office, Visitor Center and parks would all be threatened. Homes and businesses near the hill would also be in danger.
Silt runoff from a fire would flow directly into the San Juan River, thus impacting water quality and fishing along with a host of issues further downstream as the river feeds into Navajo Reservoir.
A fire on Reservoir Hill would have an immediate impact to our community. The hill houses a 250,000-gallon water tank, a critical supply of treated water for approximately 65 percent of Pagosa Springs residents. Potential would be high for fire to be transmitted to town structures. It would threaten the hot springs. Smoke would likely fill the downtown. There would undoubtedly be loss of tourism and business.
The Reservoir Hill project objectives are listed as, “Reducing threat of large, high-intensity wildfires and the negative effects of excessive competition between trees by restoring ecosystem functions, structures, and species composition, including the reduction of non-native species. Preserving old and large trees to the extent consistent with ecological values and science. Improving the use of, or adding value to, small diameter trees.”
The grant states “Reservoir Hill is a vital component of Pagosa Springs’ economy and public water storage (tank),” the application states. “It provides trails, open space and festival grounds (for two multi-day music events, hosting over 20,000 people annually).”
There are numerous partners in this project in addition to MSI. The Colorado State Forest Service and Forest Health Company will work to protect large trees while removing small-diameter timber. Southwest Conservation Corps crews will hand-thin steeper terrain. And, according to the grant, the proposal has the support of town trustees and Archuleta County. A Pagosa Springs High School science class has adopted the park for a project to study forest health. The students’ research identified the need for treatment on the hill.
“This project is expected to dramatically reduce the risk of high-intensity fire to Reservoir Hill for 10 to 20 years, protecting its economic contribution and increasing the safety (of) Pagosa’s community and visitors,” the application states.
The Reservoir Hill thinning project is the responsible thing to do.
Terri Lynn Oldham House