|Appeal sets back pine
This map shows treatment areas,
numbered and in dark pink and orange, for the Vail Valley
Forest Health Plan. In light pink are high-risk landslide
areas. Forest-health plans for areas above Intermountain and
Matterhorn have been put off because of landslide risk.
Special to the Daily
June 17, 2006
VAIL - An appeals decision from the Forest Service
could delay a project meant to reduce fire danger above Intermountain
for a year.
The U.S. Forest Service reversed part of the "Vail Valley Forest
Health Project" earlier this month based on an appeal from a Minturn
resident. The reversal focused on areas with high landslide potential.
That affects this summer's plans to cut down apsens and other trees
above Intermountain and Matterhorn in West Vail.
The plan, which covers areas from Vail to Arrowhead and would take
five years, is intended to prevent future pine beetle outbreaks, make
aspens forests healthier and reduce fire risk.
The work near Intermountain and Matterhorn could be delayed, said Cal
Wettstein, district ranger for the White River National Forest.
"It could delay this summer to next summer," Wettstein said.
Aspen stands are natural "fuelbreaks" that can prevent the spread of
wildfires, the Forest Service says.
Bill Carlson, director of environmental health for the town of Vail,
said the project will "absolutely" reduce fire risk to Vail.
"That's the whole point, is to reduce hazard for wildfire," he said.
But Minturn resident Michael Heaphy, who appealed the decision, said
the project does nothing to reduce fire risk.
Heaphy points to Forest Service documents about the project. One, an
environmental assessment, says, "In lodgepole pine and aspen units,
the proposed project would not dramatically alter fire behavior, flame
length or rate of spread."
But because more trees have died since the studies began, those
documents are based on outdated information, Wettstein said.
Heaphy appealed the plan on many fronts, saying the plan was
"arbitrary and capricious" and that alternatives - including doing
nothing at all - weren't fully considered.
"Their position is you need to cut down the trees to avoid forest
fires," Heaphy said.
Many trees are going to die even without cutting down healthy trees,
Heaphy also said he objected to the closure of popular hiking trails
as well as clearcutting of lodgepole pines on Meadow Mountain.
All of Heaphy's arguments except for the landslide concerns were
Treatments, such as cutting and thinning, are proposed for 380 acres
in high-risk landslide areas. The Forest Service acknowledged that the
work could worsen landslide risk. That could cause injuries, damage to
houses or roads or even the damming of the Eagle River, the Forest
The local Forest Service office must now work to remedy problems in
the plan. That could mean simply a better explanation of how the plan
jibes with mudslide-prevention studies.
"It's part of the process," Wettstein said. "If we didn't quite get it
right, we'll fix it."
Work could be shifted to other areas of Vail, Wettstein said.
There are some areas near Intermountain where work can still proceed
this summer, Wettstein said.
The project lays out plans for 3,000 acres in Eagle County, including
Vail, Eagle-Vail, Minturn, Avon, Mountain Star, Wildridge, Beaver
Creek and Arrowhead.
Eagle County and surrounding counties have seen the pine beetle
epidemic worsen over the last few years. When the forest health
project began in 1995, bug experts expected the beetles to kill 50
percent to 70 percent of mature lodgepole pine in the area. Now, the
death rate has reached 80 percent to 90 percent in some areas above
Intermountain and Minturn and along Red Sandstone Road north of Vail.
The town of Vail committed $250,000 to the Forest Service's efforts.
The town and the Forest Service are close to finalizing an agreement
that will result in more than $1 million of treatments in the
neighborhoods in West Vail over the next five years.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or