Pagosa Ranger District seeks comments on proposed forest project

By Lorena Williams
Special to The SUN
The Pagosa Ranger District is seeking public comments to gather input during the early phases of planning to harvest dead and declining spruce, aspen and mixed-conifer trees in the Upper Rito and Buckles areas.
The Upper Rito project area is located about 9 miles east of Pagosa Springs and will be accessed by Forest Service Road (FSR) No. 735, Aspen Spur Road; FSR No. 665, Nipple Mountain Road; and FSR No. 024, Porcupine Road. The Buckles project area is located about 15 miles southeast of Pagosa Springs and will be accessed by FSR No. 663, Buckles Lake Road.
The initial proposal is to apply harvest approaches including coppice harvesting with reserves, improvement cutting, and salvage and sanitation harvests on up to 2,080 acres in the Upper Rito area and 485 acres in the Buckles area.
Many spruce stands within the project landscape have experienced high levels of spruce bark beetle mortality in large-diameter spruce trees. Also active within the project area are the fir engraver and Douglas fir bark beetles. Impacts from these bark beetles on white fir and Douglas fir are currently limited, but dense forest conditions and repeated defoliation by western spruce budworm over the past decade predispose these trees to future bark beetle attack.
In addition to these concerns, within the project landscape the proportions of young aspen forest relative to mature aspen and conifer forest is below desired levels identified in the 2013 San Juan National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP). Proposed treatments will move forest age and composition toward plan goals and are focused within areas that have been identified as suitable for commercial timber harvest under the 2013 San Juan National Forest LRMP.
The proposal also includes fisheries habitat improvements that will benefit San Juan lineage cutthroat trout along approximately 2 miles of Rito Blanco Creek and decommissioning a small segment of FST No. 817, Blue Creek ATV trail, to prevent resource damages. ATV users may continue to access the area by using Blue Creek Road.
Comments must be postmarked by Dec. 9 to be considered. Comments received will be used to identify issues and develop alternatives. Submit comments to: San Juan National Forest, P.O. Box 310, Pagosa Springs CO 81147, Attn: Matt Tuten.
Contact Tuten at 264-2268 or by email at matthew.tuten@usda.gov for more information.

This story was posted on November 15, 2019.