many of these trees should be removed - and which ones - to steward this stand
of severely crowded, weak, spindly trees?This is a multiage doghair stand which has had no management for
decades. Left to itself many of the ladder fuel doghair trees will die from
competition, breakage, rot and blowdown, or insect infestation. Or the stand
could burn.A better option would be to
remove most of the ladder fuels in the understory. Overstory trees are
reasonably spaced here and would form an open, parklike stand, far more
firesafe and with healthier trees and more diverse ground vegetation. . Mother
Nature is providing a big hint for which trees to remove first. Photo by Judy von Ahlefeldt
BLACK FOREST OR BLACK THICKET?
by Dr. Judy von Ahlefeldt,Ecologist
Awareness is growing of forest health problems in Black
Forest, a 40,000-acre irregular area of dark and dense forest visible north of
Colorado Springs in El Paso County.Increasing residential use and heightened fire hazard awareness contributed
to record numbers of slash loads being brought to a local slash/ mulch recycling
site that has now been community supported for over 17 years.Seems that residents are realizing that their
“Forest” is really a “Thicket” in great jeopardy for wildfire.Areas are so dense (see above photo) that
fire hazards are obvious, besides looking like wrecked abandoned properties.
As early as 1997, nearly half of Black Forest Landowners
reported they were trimming or thinning trees for fire hazard mitigation, and
over a third were thinning overcrowded trees. And damaged limbs and trees from
ice and wind storms contribute more slash.The seasonal cleanup has become an annual tradition in the Black
Forest.Participants grew to over 400
families in 2011 hauling over 8000 loads of slash.A big party is thrown at the end of the
season to celebrate success.
Why is this important?For one thing, bark beetle populations tend to increase after trees are
damaged from storms. During the course of personally hauling 14 pick-up truck
loads, the author noticed Ips beetles already invading limbs broken in an April
snow, as well as small trees she cut earlier in the spring under the electric
Trees that bowed or broke during the snowstorm were weak -- too tall for their diameter and likely dry and
water-stressed. Most of these are in
the thickets of dog-hair stands all too common in Black Forest and other pine
and conifer areas of Colorado.
These unhealthy trees are also fuel for fires. They compete
with each other and with the big trees nearby. They deplete shallow surface
groundwater, causing springs to be weaker. They cover the ground with pine
needles and crowd out grasses and wildflowers.
The innovative community Slash/Mulch program of Black Forest
gives land owners a wonderful opportunity to correct forest health problems
before they set the stage for a disaster.
We need to remember the huge Buffalo Creek Fire of 1996 west
of Denver in a similar ecosystem. That sort of disaster could be our future
Plan now to remove excess trees so your trees will be a
forest, not a tangled thicket of unhealthy fire-hazard trees.
version of this article appeared in the Black Forest News in 1997.Forest-wide,
the ladder fuel problem is still extremely severe and likely growing worse in
the Black Forest.The same is true
across the State. Sustainable forestry practices that balance forest
maintenance and removal of excessive growth are needed to protect our Forests
from becoming Black Thickets.The Future
of the Forest lies in the management choices of its landowners.