By John Finefrock
Work to improve forest health on Jackson Mountain is currently underway and is expected to continue into the winter months.
Jackson Mountain is located on the east end of Archuleta County as you drive from town toward Wolf Creek Pass.
“The purpose of the work is to improve the resistance of forests on Jackson Mountain to drought, insects and wildfire and promote young aspen stands in areas where this tree species is in decline,” wrote Esther Godson, public affairs officer for the San Juan National Forest, in an email to The SUN.
Godson wrote that the work on Jackson Mountain is part of a stewardship contract awarded by the U.S. Forest Service to local contractor JR Ford and part of the work is being monitored by researchers from Colorado State University, Rocky Mountain Research Station and Mountain Studies Institute.
“In this case, we’re working in a forest that historically woulda been predominantly pine, but the white fir has taken it over, so we’re removing a lot of white fir just to give the pine a chance to come back,” Ford said in an interview Monday.
Ford added that the work will allow both pine trees and aspens to come back in the area.
Ford explained that the U.S. Forest Service has determined which trees stay and which get cut down and removed, which is different than similar projects he’s worked on in the past.
“When we were at Echo [Lake] they gave us a prescription and we were making the decision on the removal of trees. In this case, they’ve marked every tree they want kept,” he said.
Ford noted all the white fir and Douglas fir trees will go to a startup company based in Dolores that will ultimately use the trees to make plywood.
Ford explained that his company will take the pine trees to its sawmill.
He added that he was “shocked” by how many hikers, bikers and campers utilize Jackson Mountain and that there are many trails up there that aren’t legal.
“There’s a lot of trails up there that people other than the Forest Service have built without permission and have been there for years, and people are using them,” he said, adding, “When we’re actually working in those areas, are we blocking those trails? Yeah, you wouldn’t want to ride your bike through when we’re working. When we’re done you can ride through without any problem.”
Ford explained that they aren’t clear-cutting the forest, only taking out what Forest Service experts have determined should be removed to improve the overall health of the forest, though noted one area of the project currently looks pretty bare.
“On the very north end of the project, there was a high removal of white fir, so there weren’t many pine trees and there weren’t many Doug firs up there,” he said. “So, you have large open areas up there, but the only way you’re gonna get those other species to come back is to remove that white fir.”
Ford reported that, starting this week, the large piles of wood will begin to be chipped.
“Once the piles are chipped and we go back in and reseed the landing areas — that will, a year from now, that will look totally different,” he said.