The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) is inviting comment on a proposal concerning a large portion of the GMUG that has experienced mortality from insects and diseases over the past decade.
The purpose of the Spruce Beetle Epidemic and Aspen Decline Management Response project (SBEADMR project) is to proactively and adaptively respond to declining forest vegetation conditions.
The approach is to actively manage vegetation consistent with the goals outlined in the Western Bark Beetle Strategy (July 2011) including promoting recovery from the insect outbreak, improving the resiliency of green stands to future disturbances and providing for human safety. Treatments would be carried out on National Forest System (NFS) lands within the scope of direction provided in the GMUG Revised Land and Resource Management Plan. Additional project details can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/SBEADMR. A map showing the project area can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/SSA
Across the GMUG, approximately 140,000 acres of spruce-fir and 145,000 acres of aspen forests have experienced substantial mortality from insects and diseases over the past decade. Impacts have rapidly increased in recent years. Based upon patterns of bark beetle kill that have occurred on adjacent forests, the GMUG expects rapidly increasing mortality. Once attacked by beetles, most trees typically die and eventually fall to the ground, adding dead and dry fuels that increase wildfire hazard.
The purpose of the project is to treat affected stands, improve the resiliency of stands at risk of these large-scale epidemics and reduce the safety threats of falling, dead trees and large-scale wildfires.
The primary tools for reducing tree mortality, safety threats and fire hazard in stands already experiencing beetle-induced mortality will be the removal of dead and dying trees. In stands which are threatened by the beetle outbreak, forest resiliency will be improved by reducing stand densities by promoting multi-storied stand structure. Pheromone spray treatments may be used in high-value areas. Aspen stands where less than 50 percent of the root system has been affected by decline would be candidates for aspen regeneration treatments.
The project is consistent with management direction identified in the amended GMUG National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) (1983, amended 1991, 1993, 2008 and 2012). This proposed action responds to goals and objectives described in the Forest Plan and moves the project area toward desired conditions (Forest Plan, 1991, pages III-1 through III-5). Specifically, the Forest Plan goal for vegetation is to "manage vegetation in a manner to provide and maintain a healthy and vigorous ecosystem resistant to insects, diseases and other natural and human causes.
Based on these conditions and Forest Plan direction, the need for this project is to manage forest vegetation to bring current and foreseeable conditions (i.e., with no action) closer to desired conditions on landscapes available for active management.
GMUG staff estimates a range of 4,000 to 6,000 acres of commercial harvest treatments would occur annually, or a total 40,000 to 60,000 acres over the life of the 10-year project. Another 3,000 to 6,000 acres of non-commercial (mechanical and prescribed fire) treatments could also occur should funding be available. Opportunities to use prescribed fire to meet treatment objectives will also be explored. Areas that are difficult to access and/or have slopes exceeding 35 percent will not be mechanically treated. This project proposes no mechanical treatments within administratively restricted areas such as Colorado Roadless Areas (CRAs), Research Natural Areas or Special Management Areas managed for Wilderness values.
The approach is to actively manage vegetation consistent with the goals outlined in the Western Bark Beetle Strategy (July 2011, available at: http://www.fs.fed.us/publications/bark-beetle/bark-beetle-strategy-appendices.pdf) including, promoting recovery from the insect outbreak, improving the resiliency of green stands to future disturbances and providing for human safety. These general goals will be adapted to local landscapes where treatments are needed based on governing management direction, foreseeable conditions and local environment, social and economic concerns.
The GMUG Forest Supervisor is the Responsible Official for the SBEADMR project. After considering the proposed action and any alternatives, the environmental analysis and public comments, the Forest Supervisor will decide whether to conduct treatments to remove dead and dying trees, treat fuels, reforest trees, reduce and slow the progress of the beetle epidemic and promote regeneration of aspen stands. If an action alternative is selected, the Supervisor will decide where treatments may occur and what actions are appropriate and may be taken. Finally, the decision will include the scope of monitoring that should occur. No Forest Plan amendment is proposed.
The environmental analysis will be documented in an Environmental Impact Statement. A "No Action" alternative and other alternatives that may be developed during the public comment periods will be considered. No cooperating agencies have been identified.
Opportunity to comment on the scope of the Proposed Action ends 30 days following the publication date of the Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement in the Federal Register. Comments submitted in the following formats will be accepted: written, facsimile, hand-delivered and electronic. In order to be eligible to object to the USFS's decision on this project, individuals must comment during this 30 day comment period or during the comment period on the review of the draft.
Mail comments regarding the SBEADMR Project to:
2250 Highway 50
Delta, CO 81416