Thursday, January 29, 2015

In the Forest: ‘It is all about caring for the land, and serving the people’

Restoring resiliency to the "Wildland Urban Interface" by thinning out dense forest, reducing fuels and collaboratively managing resources like the land, water, and providing for travel management planning are all part of the drill, says Erin Connelly, Forest and Grassland Supervisor for the Forest Service's Pike and San Isabel National Forest Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, when she spoke to Woodland Park residents at the Ute Pass Cultural Center on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

"It is all about caring for the land, and serving the people." Connelly says.

Citing a recent study identifying the top five reasons visitors come to the forest, she notes:

1. They are here to view natural features.

2. Relax.

3. View wildlife.

4. Hiking or walking in the natural surroundings.

5. Driving to places within the forest.

Local residents in attendance challenged some aspects of the operation, however.

"Some of us think of you as the Forest Closers," said local resident Curt Grina. "It seems more areas are closed all the time. And much of the forest is cut off from us except for about a third of the year."

He asked Connelly and Pike National Forest District Ranger Oscar Martinez to identify how many miles of road had been closed and additionally how many roads in the forest are targeted for future closer.

Both Connelly and Martinez said they have to look at management with all stakeholders in mind. Concerns for water, and forest management that restores resilience to a diverse and multi-faceted forest landscape, while helping collaborative efforts in the private sector, and with interactions with all organizations is key to their success.

Upper Monument Creek Project

When asked this week about any specific areas of concern as it pertains to the threat of wildfire, Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez tabbed the Upper Monument Creek landscape.

"We are just beginning a modelling project to take that landscape and look at how to fragment the way that fire moves there. Our intention is to manage the landscape so that we might be able to design treatments to put speed bumps in place should a major wildfire occur."

Carin Vadala, NEPA Planner for the Forest Service is the lead for the Upper Monument Creek Project, and says things are just beginning.

"The Front Range Roundtable identified this area as a high priority treatment area to reduce the risk of large severe fires and to increase the function of the watersheds. They have worked to garner funding through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project which will help fund the work done on the forest. The estimated costs are approximately $10 million over a ten-year period or about $1 million a year to implement. The main objective is to create a forest structure that is varied across the landscape and is also resilient to disturbances. The timeline is not completely set because the district is currently working on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which will be released to the public for review later this year. Once the EIS is finalized it is anticipated that projects will continue for about 10 years," Vadala says.

According to a description in Forest Service reports, "The landscape is highly urbanized with the Colorado Springs metropolitan area dominating on the southeast border and the community of Woodland Park on the southwest. Two smaller communities, Monument and Palmer Lake, border the landscape to the northeast. The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is a significant presence on the landscape’s eastern boundary. The USAFA also maintains the private 655-acre Farish Recreation Area as an inholding within the landscape itself. The northern portion of the UMC landscape includes approximately one-quarter (4,407 acres) of the U.S. Forest Service’s Manitou Experimental Forest and 3,409 acres of designated Colorado Roadless Area. The 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire burned across approximately 11,000 acres at the landscape’s southern tip.

"The UMC Initiative builds on the work of the Front Range Roundtable, which has been working together since 2004 to dramatically increase forest management that reduces wildfire risks to communities and restores resilient ecological conditions in Front Range forests. The 67,000-acre UMC landscape is located within an area designated as a high priority for management by the Roundtable. Treatment within the landscape will be implemented under the auspices of the Front Range Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project (CFLRP) and Long Term Stewardship Contract, both of which are Roundtable priorities, according to and executive summary of the initial report.

"The UMC Collaborative used a series of workshops and field visits to identify effective strategies for restoring desired conditions to the UMC landscape. Using both spatial and non-spatial analyses, the Collaborative found that: three major forest types comprise 85% of the landscape; forests in older age classes are significantly underrepresented; and forest conditions are considerably more dense than they would have been historically, particularly in the drier Ponderosa Pine and mixed conifer systems. Analyses also revealed that these closed forest conditions place people, water and wildlife at significant risk from unnaturally large and damaging wildfires," the report says.

Based on these analyses, it recommends over the next 7-10 years, the USFS use a combination of mechanical, manual and prescribed fire treatments to manage conditions on approximately 18,000 acres within the UMC landscape.

"First, treatments must be designed and implemented at a meaningful scale, ensuring that they are able to effect a landscape-scale change in conditions and processes. Second, treatments should be strategically scheduled and located so that they maximize benefits to both people and nature. Finally, treatments must be carefully designed, using the best available science for individual forest systems and ensuring that the purpose of treatments is clear," the report said.

You can also find more information about the project at the following webpage.


1. Erin Connelly, Forest and Grassland Supervisor for the Forest Service’s Pike and San Isabel National Forest Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, spoke to Woodland Park residents at the Ute Pass Cultural Center on Tuesday, Jan. 20, about policies and upcoming issues.

2. Oscar Martinez, Pikes Peak District Ranger, outlines initiatives and addressed questions by locals at the meeting Tuesday.

3. Map outlining the scope of the upper Monument Creek project.

4. Mount Herman Road is still closed but work is expected to be completed soon, weather permitting.

Photos by Rob Carrigan, Map courtesy of Pike National Forest District

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