The Forest Service is chipping away at plans to improve habitat on 10’s of thousands of acres in the Roaring Fork Valley. The large-scale project includes thinning overgrown vegetation in areas like the Frying Pan and Crystal River Valleys. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
The work started about two years ago. So far crews have tackled 3000 acres. They’re using chainsaws and prescribed fire to clear forests in poor shape due to development and a lack of wildfire, which rejuvenates vegetation. Phil Nyland is a Forest Service biologist heading up the project.
"These are areas where we felt like we needed to do something to improve conditions for not only big game, but a variety of wildlife native to Colorado," he says.
He predicts if work isn’t done in these areas, wildlife populations, like mule deer and elk, could start to decline. The goal is to do work on 45,000 acres in different parts of the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Frying Pan river valleys, as well as Glenwood Canyon.
The forest thinning essentially gives large game, like black bears, a healthier natural menu. New vegetation contains more nutrients than older plants and shrubs.
"Just think in terms of the lush green grass on a lawn versus if the lawn has gotten old and full of thatch, it just doesn’t appear as healthy. The same analogy goes for oak brush, mountain shrubs as well as aspen communities," Nyland says.
So far, Nyland estimates they’ve spent $300,000, using tax dollars and donations from groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Colorado Bighorn Sheep Society. Still, funding for the entire 10-year project is a question mark even though, Nyland says, Congress has said restoring public lands is important.
"We have no assurity that we’ll be able to implement 100 percent of the project over a 10-year period, in fact, I doubt that we’ll even get to 45,000 acres," he says.
Still, the project is moving forward. Crews are scheduled to start work next week on improving winter habitat for bighorn sheep in Glenwood Canyon.