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Mixed Conifer Working Group to meet Friday

A local group that formed last August, called the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Workgroup will meet again Friday, May 20 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ross Aragon Community Center in Pagosa Springs.

This study group, which has met nine times so far, is open to anyone who is interested in learning about the mixed-conifer forests that surround Pagosa Springs and nearby communities. The goal of the workgroup is to submit a report on its findings and recommendations to public land managers and the community at-large, and to establish a monitoring program for the future.

The Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Workgroup is committed to collaborative approaches to improving the health and long-term resilience of mixed-conifer forests and the communities located near them in southwest Colorado. The workgroup will focus on strengthening understanding, sharing knowledge and lessons learned, developing management approaches, initiating high priority projects, and monitoring results using an adaptive framework.

Most of the mixed-conifer forests around Pagosa Springs are managed by the Pagosa Ranger District Office of the USFS, and they make up 241,785 acres which is 13 percent of the entire land base of the San Juan National Forest. This is the third most abundant type of forest behind spruce-fir and aspen. These forested lands are found between 7,500 and 10,000 feet in elevation. On private lands, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) helps manage these forests in partnership with landowners.

Mixed-conifer is the most diverse and complex forest environment in southwest Colorado. This diversity draws users of all types, including grazers, recreationists, wildlife enthusiasts, boaters, hikers, bird watchers, skiers, snowmobilers and forest product users.

Mixed-conifer forests are worthy of additional study and focus because of the high need to reduce wildfire danger. Recent increases in tree mortality due to insects and diseases and the expanding urbanization of communities into the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) are other challenging areas. The emerging economic interest in biomass products brings important economic opportunities to a region whose history is firmly rooted in timbering. Those interested in conservation care about these forests because of their natural and ecological values including plants, wildlife and fisheries. Recreationists use these forests for everything from whitewater boating to hiking to horseback riding and motorized use. It is safe to say that everyone from the local communities is tied to the mixed-conifer forests in some way.

These diverse cultural, ecological and economic factors have all merged to create an interest in working collaboratively to develop a shared vision for managing the mixed-conifer forests that dominate much of the Pagosa Ranger District landscape.

Since last fall, the focus of the Upper San Juan Mixed-Conifer Workgroup has been learning through field trips, speakers, discussion and presentations. Members have learned about watershed issues, community wildfire protection plans, disease and insects, the current condition of the forests (age, class, distribution, etc.), a potential new biomass-into-energy project, and the myriad wildlife species that rely on forest habitat.

Most recently, staff at the Pagosa Ranger District Office, working with several partners, have prepared detailed information by sub-areas (known as polygons). This has provided the opportunity for members to understand how these many diverse issues interact with and impact specific geographic areas including: Blanco Basin, Devil Turkey, Plumtaw, Piedra, Price Lakes, Rio Blanco, Turkey Springs, Upper San Juan, and Middle/Fork Williams (maps and information sheets for each are online at the website below).

Beginning this summer, the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Workgroup will wrap up its work by identifying future projects and preferred management approaches including a list of non-binding forestry management principles that reflect community values and ideas. The group’s final report will include suggestions for monitoring and evaluation of effects from project implementation. Ideas for future economic development projects as well as conservation ideas will be discussed. The group’s draft recommendations will be presented to the community in the fall of 2011 for feedback through meetings, focus groups or the Internet. The final report is considered advisory in nature since the forests are managed by the USFS.

The group will not be making any recommendations about travel management and which roads and trails are open or closed — as those planning processes are occurring through other means.

The group currently consists of 25 regular attendees who bring various viewpoints to the table in facilitated meetings that are open to all interested citizens. Staff from the local USFS attend, as well as members from local governments and Colorado Division of Wildlife. The group is funded by a grant from the National Forest Foundation, and from donations of time and expertise by the Pagosa Ranger District Office and volunteers.

For information, or with questions, contact Marsha Porter-Norton, 759-3110 or porternorton@bresnan.net and go to http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/mixed conifer/.

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