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Planners adjust logging project to minimize impacts to trails

Project north of Dolores overlaps popular trail system and camping area

San Juan National Forest officials addressed concerns about a logging project’s impact on the recreation in the Boggy Draw area north of Dolores during a community meeting March 10 held on Zoom.

The 22,346-acre Salter Vegetation Management Project stretches from the Salter Y area on the west side to the Boggy Draw area on the east side. Timber harvesting of ponderosa pine is expected in stages for 10 years.

A portion of the project overlaps the popular network of trails and dispersed camping in the Boggy Draw area. That area is getting special attention to minimize recreation impacts.

According to the project’s environmental assessment, temporary trail closures and rerouting of trails would be required during the project to accommodate logging operations.

In comments about the plan, recreationists and the town of Dolores expressed concerns about impacts to recreation, which is depended on by regional residents and supports the local economy.

San Juan National Forest recreation planner Tom Rice and Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla said the agency is analyzing the effects on recreation at Boggy Draw and are planning for a suite of mitigation measures.

“We have heard the comments on recreation concerns. Our staff has taken a hard look at the trail system up there and made adjustments to make sure there is the least amount of impact to the trails both physically and aesthetically,” said Padilla.

Rice said logging zones were dropped or adjusted away from the more interesting trail features with unique views or geologic features.

For trails within or near logging areas, there will be an effort to leave trees along an 18-foot corridor of the trail to maintain scenic qualities.

Forest planners emphasized that the Boggy Draw motorized and nonmotorized trail system will overall remain open during the life of the project. Logging will be selective thinning, not clear-cutting, and it will not happen all at once.

The Boggy Draw portion of the project will be divided into six logging recreation compartments that will be harvested one at a time in order to keep the remaining trails open as much as possible, said Rice.

“In areas where there is timber harvest activity, there will be closed trails in many cases, but in an effort to reduce closures, trails will be temporarily rerouted or detoured where possible until the logging compartment is completed,” Rice said.

A separate analysis is being conducted on temporary reroutes and detours of trails for each logging block.

Also as part of the plan, timber machinery would be required to avoid trails to prevent damage.

The Boggy Draw area is also popular for dispersed camping. Some timber harvest treatment units were eliminated along the main Boggy Draw road to protect the many dispersed camping sites there, Rice said.

Dispersed camping areas on the arterial roads farther from the main road will see timber harvest activity to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk.

Notice of temporary trail closures or reroutes will be posted at the trails, on websites, with local bike clubs and shops, and on social media.

Dolores town boardmember Sheila Wheeler urged that the town be notified in advance as much as possible on expected trail closures so they can help get the word out to businesses, residents and tourists.

Planners will know a year in advance when a timber sale is awarded, and will have months of prep time to plan and mitigate impacts to trails in that section, and inform the public.

Individual logging sales are still being planned, so which specific trails would be affected is not yet available.

Jimbo Buickerood, land protection manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said there has been a lot of concern from recreationists on how long trails at Boggy could be closed.

He asked forest officials for a strong “commitment to reroute trails” that face temporary closure because of logging operations.

“There was a lot of community interest in these trails, and they are a huge economic driver for Dolores,” Buickerood said.

Making sure the public understands that the project does not impact all trails is also crucial, he said.

Rice said timber harvest compartments would be logged one at a time to allow other trails to remain open. Areas with less dense trails would be not be impacted by logging operations as much or at all.

Expect more truck traffic

Logging traffic will increase in the project area, including in Boggy Draw and in Dolores.

According to the plan, hauling will be allowed throughout the year, except for 10 holidays and special events, including during the Escalante Days festival and Boggy Beat Down bike race.

Log hauling could also be restricted when certain conditions exist, Padilla said.

For example, during the spring thaw, if logging roads do not dry or freeze overnight, hauling would be delayed because road conditions would be too soft for truck travel.

Padilla said based on the harvest season and timber industry practices, logging traffic is not expected to be yearlong.

Dolores will see more log truck traffic coming down the Dolores-Norwood Road, County Road 31, 11th Street and Colorado Highway 145.

Based on similar projects in the forest, officials expect an average of nine loaded logging trucks going through the town of Dolores per day during the harvest season. The estimated traffic is an average; on some days, there will be no trucks, on others, there could be more than nine per day.

Minus the restricted hauling for holidays, Dolores could face significant increased truck traffic day and night, Buickerood said. He suggested more “sideboards” be implemented to control truck traffic.

Wildlife impacts and mitigation

There will be temporary displacement of wildlife when logging is occurring, said Ivan Messinger, wildlife biologist for the San Juan National Forest.

Timing restrictions are in place to protect critical big game habitat, he said.

Areas designated as critical elk winter range and for elk calving will not have logging operations between Dec. 1 and April 30.

Wildlife impacts are addressed in the environmental assessment.

Logging details

Logging in the Salter Vegetations Management plan “will not all take place at the same time,” said David Casey, a forester with the San Juan National Forest.

Typically areas are worked one at a time to limit disruption in the forest. Specific harvesting blocks range from less than 500 acres to 2,000 acres, which are broken down into 200-acre units. Logging the subunits usually takes between six to eight weeks, then the area is restored and public access restored.

A project goal is to improve stand diversity for age and size, improve forest resiliency to bugs, drought and disease, and reduce wildfire risk, Casey said.

Old growth trees have been identified and will not be cut down. The largest size tree allowed to be harvested under the project is 26.9 inches in diameter. The amount of thinning in a block is predetermined based on forest studies for that section.

The Boggy Draw area is mostly second-growth ponderosa pine, said Travis Bruch, timber fuels program manager. It was all logged in the 1920s and 30s. The majority of the trees are between 10 inches and 20 inches in diameter.


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