Officials in charge of the White River National Forest are seeking public comments on a proposal to implement a forest-wide vegetation management project located in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.

The project’s goal is to maintain existing critical fuel breaks and treatment areas adjacent to communities, and improve forest health in areas affected by the mountain pine beetle by removing small-diameter vegetation. A maximum of 1,000 acres of vegetation-management activities would be conducted on national forest lands annually through the following activities:

  • Continued management of live and dead fuels within previously created fuel breaks in the wildland urban interface (the area where the edge of developed communities meets forest land);

  • Improving individual tree growth, and improving forest health through reducing tree density in naturally regenerating stands of young lodgepole pine;

  • Reducing the extent of insects or diseases present in lodgepole pine stands;

  • And continued enhancement of tree-species diversity through maintaining and protecting young Engelmann spruce trees planted in areas affected by past spruce beetle outbreaks.

 “In response to the mountain pine beetle epidemic, the White River National Forest has worked aggressively to reduce fuel concentrations in critical areas adjacent to communities and to promote the regeneration of lodgepole pine,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor, in a press release. “However, we now have previously treated areas across the forest that have regrown and are overly dense and need maintenance to continue to be effective in the event of future wildfires.”

During the past 15 years, the mountain pine beetle epidemic has impacted lodgepole pine populations across the forest, leaving large swaths of widespread, dead-standing trees. In response, federal officials implemented, and will continue to implement, targeted fuels-reduction projects in these areas to create fuel breaks between communities and the forest to protect infrastructure and provide for firefighter safety in the event of a wildfire. Over time, these completed fuel breaks have regenerated and are now dense with vegetation. Continued maintenance/thinning of past treatment areas would reduce tree density, increase water and nutrient availability, remove dwarf mistletoe, and increase tree vigor, the release says.

Officials are seeking comments on the proposed action, with feedback assisting in refining design features and identifying potential issues. Comments specific to the proposed action that identify a cause-effect relationship are most helpful.

Electronic comments, including attachments, can be submitted to:

Hardcopy comments can be mailed to: White River National Forest, Attn: Shelby Limberis, P.O. Box 190, Minturn, CO 81645; or hand-delivered to forest offices in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Rifle, Meeker, Minturn and Silverthorne.

Comments will be accepted any time, but will be most helpful if submitted prior to January 31, 2019. Names and contact information submitted with comments will become part of the public record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

It is anticipated that this project will use a categorical exclusion (CE). A CE is a category of actions that can be excluded from documentation in an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.