The Pagosa Public Lands Office mounted a large reforestation effort this year that was the culmination of several years of work to restore about 400 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands southwest of Chromo.
The goal was to restore healthy ponderosa pine stands to the denuded landscape on Vigil and Abeyta mesas. The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and American Forests Global ReLeaf Grant Program. The need for the reforestation stemmed from a problem with the non-native pines planted in the area decades ago.
After the area was logged in the 1950s, the mesas were planted with seedlings from South Dakota. The trees grew for awhile, but then Forest Service entomologists, pathologists and geneticists discovered widespread disease in the stands. Sampling and genetic testing of diseased trees revealed the cause to be non-native seed sources. Because the original nursery stock was not native to the southwest, the pines were not adapted to the latitude, elevation, climatic conditions or soils of the area.
After diagnosing the problem, the Forest Service decided it was imperative to avoid genetic intermixing between the diseased trees and nearby native ponderosa stands. After an environmental analysis in 2002 and 2003, non-native pines and intermingled Gambel oak stands on about 700 acres were mulched with mechanical equipment. This was followed by intermittent prescribed burning operations from 2006 to 2009. The majority of the masticated area and intervening canyon was burned, totaling about 1,000 acres.
Reforestation began this year, with126,000 native seedlings provided by the USFS Bessey Nursery. Thirty-five planters from the private sector were hired to place 300 seedlings per acre across 422 acres. Forest Service biologists and foresters designed the project to result in varied spacing of trees for a natural look. Most seedlings were planted in the shade of oak trees or beside old stumps to shelter the young trees as they grow. Those planted out in the open were covered with round tubes to shade them until they get established.
The goal is to reestablish a ponderosa pine forest that will offer long-term resilience and sustainability for wildlife habitat, the watershed, and forest ecosystem. The native reforestation will also guard against noxious-weed infestations and set the stage for future prescribed burning to keep stands healthy and wildfire resilient.