The Pagosa Public Lands Office mounted a large reforestation effort this spring after several years of work to restore BLM lands on Vigil and Abeyta Mesas southwest of Chromo.
The problem dated back to a 1950s logging operation when the mesas were replanted with seedlings from South Dakota. The non-native trees grew for a few decades but then began to sicken. USFS entomologists, pathologists, and geneticists attributed the cause to the fact that the original nursery stock was not adapted to the latitude, elevation, climatic conditions, or soils of the area.
The solution was to remove the non-native stands to avoid their genetic intermixing with nearby native ponderosa stands. After environmental analysis in 2002 and 2003, the diseased pines and intermingled oak on about 700 acres were mulched with mechanical equipment. This was followed by intermittent prescribed burning operations from 2006 to 2009.
This spring, the BLM launched a huge reforestation project to restore healthy pine stands to the denuded landscape with the long-term goals of resilience and sustainability for wildlife habitat, the watershed, and forest ecosystem. The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and American Forests Global ReLeaf Grant Program.
The planting operation was contracted out to the private sector this spring, with126,000 native seedlings provided by the USFS Bessey Nursery. Some three dozen planters placed 300 seedlings per acre across 422 acres.
Seedlings were planted with varied spacing for a natural look, and most were planted in the shade of oak trees or old stumps to shelter them from the elements. Those planted in the open were protected with round tubes to shade them until they get established.
Reestablishing a ponderosa pine-dominant forest will bring back foraging and nesting habitat for several species of wildlife. The planting of a native forest will also help keep noxious weeds in check and set the stage to use prescribed burning in the future to keep stands healthy and wildfire resilient.