USFS hopes to slow the spread of dwarf mistletoe
By Kristy Acuff
Approximately 6,500 acres of land around the Taylor Park and Tincup areas may soon be the location for a forest-thinning and clear cutting project to slow the spread of dwarf mistletoe among the lodgepole pine of the Gunnison National Forest.
The Gunnison Ranger District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) is currently working on an environmental assessment for the project. The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners discussed the proposed plan at a board meeting last month.
“The basic plan as I understand it is to clear-cut strips in a circle around lodgepole stands to create buffer zones so the mistletoe cannot jump from the infected to the healthy trees,” said commissioner Phil Chamberland. “They refer to it as a donut cut and it has to be fairly broad because the mistletoe can shoot seeds as far as 60 feet from an infected tree.”
Dwarf mistletoe weakens lodgepole pine forests and makes the trees more susceptible to mountain pine beetle and wildfire mortality. Heavily infested stands lose approximately 8 percent of their trees each decade, according to the Forest Service, which estimates that 52 percent of the lodgepole forests in the Gunnison Ranger District have some level of dwarf mistletoe infestation.
The plan proposes harvesting infected lodgepole pines through clear-cutting and subsequently regenerating the area through both natural and artificial methods.
In addition to the threat from dwarf mistletoe, the lodgepole’s reproductive cycle has been impaired by wildfire suppression. Deputy county attorney Matthew Hoyt explained that the pinecones need heat in order to burst open and spread their seeds—heat that was once supplied naturally through fires but is now absent.
The proposed plan would cut 3,609 acres of infected lodgepole pine as well as an additional 2,811 acres to be cut for wildfire mitigation or fuel reduction. Although the Forest Service would have to cut roads in order to access and remove the cut trees, it plans to close and reclaim the roads as soon as the logging operation ceases.
“What are some of the concerns of the Tincup community about this project?” asked commissioner John Messner.
Hoyt, who attended a Forest Service presentation about the plan in Tincup, responded. “One concern raised at the Tincup meeting is that since mistletoe is not an invasive species, why do we need this kind of intensive treatment of cutting and thinning? And the Forest Service responded that the science supports this kind of treatment, especially considering the unnatural fire conditions in Taylor Park due to fire suppression,” explained Hoyt.
“In addition, the landowners are concerned about the visual impacts of clear cutting around the town area and wonder about the time frame in terms of regrowth and regeneration,” said Hoyt.
“But what does the science say? The visual impact is more about aesthetics than science,” added commissioner Jonathan Houck.
“But aesthetics are a real concern for homeowners there because the Forest Service sometimes leaves a mess behind after a clear cut,” said Chamberland.
“In our comments we should propose that the Forest Service convene an adaptive management group [AMG] that includes the many stakeholders involved to discuss the proposal before the release of the environmental assessment,” said Messner.
For more information about the Forest Service’s proposal, go to www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53662.