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Healthy forests and healthy communities tour

By Aaron Kimple
Special to The SUN

San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, Firewise Communities of Southwest Colorado, Pagosa Ranger District/San Juan National Forest, Certified Family Forest and Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) are pleased to offer a guided tour of local forests on May 22.

This is a free event. Private landowners with trees, people who love our forests, educators, environmental groups, researchers and public land managers interested in managing for healthy sustainable forests and communities are all encouraged to attend. Lunch will be provided. Anyone interested in attending is encouraged to R.S.V.P. at www.mountainstudies.org. Attendees should meet at Coyote Hill parking lot (at the end of pavement of Piedra Road/County Road 600), about seven miles northwest of Pagosa Springs, at 8:30 a.m. The tour will leave the parking lot promptly at 9 a.m. and should be completed by 4 p.m.

What is a healthy forest? We all have a mental picture that jumps to mind when we hear the expression “healthy forest,” but where does that image come from? For the most part, healthy forests represent the forests and parks that we grew up with.

“Our vision of forests may be constructed around forests that have been in transition or managed outside of natural cycles,” stated Steve Hartvigsen of the San Juan National Forest. “Learning about what makes a forest healthy can help us to alter those perceptions.”

Forest management

“How we manage forests varies from parcel to parcel and can even vary within parcels,” according to Scott Wagner of the San Juan National Forest. You have to evaluate the types of species within an area, whether or not they are affected by bugs or disease, what the understory looks like, the overall character of the stand, and then you have to consider the goals for management. There are a lot of variables that impact management decisions.

Forests and communities

The Forest Health Company of Pagosa Springs is experimenting with how to implement management strategies so that they not only make forests healthier, but make the communities around the forest more viable. They are working on ways to remove unwanted trees from thinning areas and using the residue from those trees to help Pagosa. Trees are removed from thinning areas and chipped with plans to convert the chips into energy.

What can you do? 

“We have all chosen to live in areas that are susceptible to wildfire.” said Bill Trimarco of Archuleta Firewise. “We can manage our personal property to reduce risk of damage or loss.”

The healthy forests tour will include examples of management decisions that private land owners and members of Certified Family Forests have implemented to make their property healthier and safer.

More than just trees

According to Aaron Kimple of Mountain Studies Institute (MSI), a healthy forest has impact beyond the trees. “The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, during discussions about their mission, realized that forest health issues are closely tied to water quality and watershed health.”

The goals of the healthy forests driving tour are to 1) Observe healthy and unhealthy forests; 2) Explore local watersheds and water issues; 3) Experience tools for management.

Learn more and R.S.V.P. at www.mountainstudies.org. You can also contact Aaron Kimple at akimple@mountainstudies.org or (970) 382-6908.

This story was posted on May 16, 2013.