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Reservoir Hill thinning project set for 2015

By Aaron Kimple
Special to The SUN

Reservoir Hill sits in the heart of Pagosa Springs. It hosts music lovers and recreationists, and offers views of the surrounding countryside. Its shadow is cast over the main street, county and town offices, restaurants and the hot springs. It also serves as a storage facility for much of the water that town residents rely upon. The woods on Reservoir Hill provide solitude and atmosphere.

A group of community members has been working to secure the long-term health of forests and watersheds, and water quality of Archuleta County since 2012. The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership is a group of citizens, landowners, land managers, environmental groups and business owners that facilitate open discussion of issues around forest health and water quality across management boundaries.

The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, in collaboration with the Town of Pagosa Springs, the Forest Health Company and the Southwest Conservation Corps, has applied for and received a grant from the Colorado State Forest Service to help improve forest conditions on Reservoir Hill.

The Reservoir Hill Forest Protection Project was designed by concerned local citizens, organizations and agencies in an attempt to minimize the potential loss of the Reservoir Hill forest due to environmental risks. Losses, particularly losses from damaging wildfire and bark beetle mortality, have become all too common for communities in Colorado in recent years.

Wildfire and beetles could adversely alter or destroy the Reservoir Hill forest that is so important to the Pagosa community. At threat are water quality (due to loss of vegetation and altered watersheds), municipal water supply infrastructure, road and trail access to Reservoir Hill, communication towers and infrastructure, and most importantly, public safety. The proposed Reservoir Hill Forest Collaboration Project will enhance the health of Reservoir Hill forest by removing dead and dying trees, reducing the density of trees per acre and removing trees at greatest risk for wildfire and disease

Prescriptions for improving forest health on Reservoir Hill are being developed with the help of community members, state and federal foresters, and representatives from the Town of Pagosa Springs’ Parks and Recreation Department. The design and objectives of the Reservoir Hill project include:

  • Thinning from below — remove small trees to favor large trees;
  • Reduce density and tree-to-tree competition to improve the ability of trees retained to absorb adequate moisture and fight off bark beetle attacks;
  • Remove ladder fuels to limit a ground fire from transitioning into a crown fire;
  • Remove trees of poor health or form to favor trees of good health or form (keep the trees that provide a lot of shade);
  • Remove young trees that compete with the few remaining large, old trees — favor old-growth ponderosa pine trees that provide age-class and aesthetic diversity to the forest; and
  • Reduce fuel connectivity so fires can be safely contained and put out.

The project will involve thinning of the forest on Reservoir Hill using mechanized equipment on gentle to moderate slopes and hand thinning on steeper slopes. Much of the material will be mulched. All activities and impacts will be monitored and assessed. Thinning operations will occur between January and May 2015.

This project will greatly improve forest health, reduce the risk of adverse wildfire or bark beetle attack, protect essential community resources and the public, and lead towards long-term resilience of the forest of Reservoir Hill.

For more information, please contact Jim Miller with the Pagosa Springs Parks and Recreation Department at 264-4151 or Aaron Kimple with the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership at 387-5161.

This story was posted on September 4, 2014.