Managing the Rio Grande National Forest for the future

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 5th, 2014

Dan Dallas is the Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor and the Incident Commander of Rocky Mountain Team B, a Type 2 Incident Management Team. 
The recent release of the 2013 forest health aerial survey data reinforced what we already knew: the spruce beetle epidemic continued to spread on the Rio Grande National Forest. The beetles have now infested more than 85 percent of the high elevation spruce-fir forests in the Upper Rio Grande Watershed.

We have now passed the peak of the spread of the beetles on the RGNF as most of our spruce-fir forests have been infested. The beetles will continue to be active for several years as they infest the remaining mature spruce trees, but the subalpine fir and most of the younger spruce will survive and form the base that will create the next forest.

Our local forests have gone through some big changes recently and I know there is a lot of concern about their future. I want the residents of the San Luis Valley to know that I take your concerns seriously and that we are constantly assessing, planning and actively managing your national forest. Humility requires we recognize that we can’t always control Mother Nature. Our best approach now is to focus on protecting human life and development in and around the forest; gain benefits and value from the forest for current users; and work with nature, where appropriate, to direct the course of the forest in ways that will benefit future generations. When you consider that it will take more than 100 years for most of our spruce-fir forests to grow back and reach maturity, what we do today needs to benefit the grandchildren of our grandchildren.

We continue to offer timber sales to local and regional mills in order to salvage dead and dying trees for human use. Several active timber sales burned or partially burned in the West Fork and Papoose Fires. We are working with the purchasers of these sales to amend or terminate their contracts while also offering new timber sales for bid. I do not expect to see any break in the supply of sawtimber offered to the mills as a result of the fires.

We are also now focusing a lot of our planning efforts on landscape level analyses. These large study areas cover a diversity of forest types and rangelands from the foothills up to the alpine tundra. A wide variety of projects will come out of these studies including commercial timber sales; thinning projects and prescribed burns to reduce fire risk and improve wildlife habitat; and forest and soil restoration projects that will reduce erosion, improve water quality and help jumpstart the next forests. Most of our beetle-killed and burned forests will recover naturally, but some areas will need our help. Our foresters recently sent seeds collected from our local trees to the U.S. Forest Service’s Lucky Peak Nursery in Boise, Idaho to grow seedlings that we will begin planting in 2015. One year-old seedlings will be planted in beetle-killed and burned timber management areas that do not have adequate regeneration. Most of this work will be done by contractors, but we will be sure to save some to be planted by volunteers who want to lend a hand with restoring their forest.

I think most people understand that forests are dynamic systems, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the huge changes we have witnessed over the last decade. Nor could anyone have prevented them. I want to assure you that we will continue to actively manage the Rio Grande National Forest no matter what nature throws at us. I also hope that you will assist us by volunteering to help on projects as they arise and by providing your input on how we can best manage your forest. Together we can create the forest that will benefit future generations.