2012-2013 Logging Reports

Trail Report from Mike Barrow Jan 19, 2013

Ugh... You won't like the way it looks.


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I wanted to assess the impacts of the fuel treatment work.  We need to think of our forest as a canvas; anyone who was aware knew that the trees were dead or dying and on the verge of a massive fire.  So we wiped the canvas clean, so to speak, to begin again the cycle.

Currently, there is very little snow where there is no canopy.  The work is done on the north side of Haul Road, and I didn't ride there, I spent my time on the south side.  Apparently, the trails as we knew them will be cleared of slash and re-established in the spring after all the cutting and hauling is done.  Today, many trail sections are obliterated in the open areas and slash is everywhere.  In the trees, there is snow and drifts keep footsteps and bikes away.  The roads are snowpacked from vehicles so I rode them for my ride.

Near the start of the observatory trail... east end is on right and it dives into the trees where the hikers are

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My first impression is that the cutting is very patchy. The cutting takes advantage of the roads to make more robust fire breaks, making fire fighting more defensible.

end of Hobbit 1... where's the trail?

Start of Hobbit 2... where's the frikkin' trail?

At the gate to the YMCA Camp

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So, would I ride there again in its current state?  Hell no... It's a Bummer to see this place in the shape it's in, but I also see tremendous opportunity to make something very awesome starting this summer!

Update January 2013

Open! Still not done, but done enough to open the gates.  We are told that this is the end of the big closures and only small areas will be closed as contractors finish up their work.  We are also told that an Environmental Assessment for West Mag and the Dots will start before the end of the first quarter 2013.  NEPA requires this process before we can proceed with redesign and restoration of the trail network.

Yes, you will be shocked and depressed with the current condition of West Mag.  But we encourage you to think of it as an opportunity to make something even more awesome.  Trail conditions coming very soon.

Here's the press release:

From the US Forest Service on January 18, 2013:The West Magnolia area, located on the Boulder Ranger District immediately south of Nederland, will open to public access today, Friday, January 18, 2013. The area has been closed since June 2012 for safety reasons during major fuel mitigation work and hazardous tree cutting. The Nederland Recreational Shooting Closure (Order No. 10-01-2012-11) is still in place.

Those visiting the area are advised to stay on designated roads and trails and exercise caution around existing trees. Trees of all sizes remaining after treatment will be susceptible to blow-down during windy weather. Stumps and logs may be hidden under the snow. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.

Cutting and hauling operations are on hold. Operations are expected to resume when conditions allow and small area closures may be put in place. Slash piles and log decks remaining on site must not be tampered with, added to, or removed from for legal and safety reasons.

For other recreation information on the Boulder Ranger District this winter, please call Visitor Information at 303-541-2500


Update October 2012 - USFS/BCPOS Fuel Treatment Tour Report mike barrow reporting...

The only constant in our lives is change....

I attended a Fuel Treatment tour sponsored by the USFS and BCPOS on Sunday, October 21.  We had Sylvia Clark, District Ranger, Chad Julian Boulder County Wildland Fire guru in attendance, as well as the major players that created the prescription for the West Mag fuel treatment project.  I was impressed with the level of detail and the confluence of disciplines that have to come together to create a plan like this.  It's not an exact science to be sure, but some very smart and dedicated people are on the job.

A historical perspective

Close your eyes and imagine 600 AD in the Boulder County foothills; what does the terrain look like from foothills to divide?  Researchers have found that it was hotter and drier back then, and the hills were devoid of trees to almost 7000 feet.  Lodgepoles were present above 8000' elevation and the Ponderosa pines didn't get much lower than 7000'.

Then we got the "mini ice age" around 1200.  This was a period of cooler, wetter weather and the forest made its way down to where they are today.  But today, if you haven't noticed, we are in a trend that is getting hotter and drier again.  This probably would be happening if humans weren't here, but we are and our activities are accelerating this change.  The forest is retreating, and we are helping.

Lodgepole pine forests have a life cycle that includes "big disturbance events".  They have a maturation range of around 90 to 140 years before they collapse and something happens that takes them out and the process starts over.  The last event was about 1870.  Combine this with 100 years for systematic fire suppression and we are due... actually, we are overdue.

Human presence doesn't like "big disturbance events".  We have infrastructure and homes throughout the most volatile areas.  40% of all new homes constructed in Colorado in the last 10 years were built in these red zones.  So we try to mimic the characteristics of a "big disturbance event" without the negative ramifications of a fire.

Parking lot from Haul Road
This is what a "big disturbance event" looks like sans the fire... From Haul Rd looking into the main parking lot
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That's what the USFS and BCPOS are trying to do with fuel treatment programs.  Areas of human presence (Nederland) have been identified and priority given to fuel treatment projects where firefighters can have a chance to do more then just get out of the way when that big fire comes.

That north facing mountainside just to the south of Nederland and Barker Reservoir is a bomb that is primed to go off.  Nederland's Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is an ambitious plan to create a ring of defensible space around the town.  The West Mag project is the biggest and most visible effort to date.  The plan will likely take decades to complete and it's questionable if it will actually save the town.  Think New Orleans and their plan to stave off a Cat 3 hurricane... and a Katrina monster hits.

End of Haul Road
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Wildland fire management is an evolving science, what the experts were doing ten years ago isn't what they are doing today. They are learning as they go.

West Mag, or Roosevelt National Forest for that matter, won't be a healthy forest again in our lifetime.  The USFS is trying to mimic the results of fire in West Mag so it can start again.  And because it's clear that the forest is receding, we shouldn't be thinking on creating a forest that looks like what we have today.

So what about our favorite riding area?  What is the plan moving forward?

As of October 21, the cutting is 60% done and the hauling of logs is 40% done.  If the weather cooperates, cutting and hauling will be done in November.  Contractors will be back in the spring to do restoration work and we should be able to get back onsite to repair the trails in that timeframe as well.  Slash piles, which represent less than 10% of the fuel, will remain onsite for at least two seasons while they dry out.  On some winter day more than two years from now, they will torch them.

The USFS will "restore" the trails in the area.  Any deviation in the trail alignment will trigger a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, which could take a long time to complete, given the lack of resources the USFS has.  So we are saddled with the reality of re-establishing the current trails system while we work with the USFS and the residents of Nederland to redesign and recreate the West Mag Trails system where appropriate.

There is a mini fuel treatment program going forward for the Nederland water treatment plant, which sits between Nederland High School and the trailhead for West Mag.  We can expect this project to impact access to West Mag from this point sometime in the future.  No date was given for work on the ground yet, but the people of Nederland want to continue to drink, so this project will get done.

There is plenty of more information that you can dive into, and you can find it via links on this page to the USFS West Mag site.

looking NW at Sugar mag
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