City forester pleased with new growth in cleared areas

       About a year ago, City Forestry startled some locals by unleashing a big, loud “bullhog” machine in the Garden of the Gods that cut through areas of dead and dying gambel oak brush, leaving behind bare spots covered with ground-up brush remains. Off the Breytag Trail (with the North Gateway rock formation in the background) Dennis Will of City Forestry 
shows a growth of gambel oak that has come up since a city-hired “bullhog” cleared that area of the Garden of the Gods a year ago.
Westside Pioneer photo
       In response to some who were concerned about unsightliness and future erosion issues, Dennis Will of City Forestry said at the time that the clearing was a necessary part of fire prevention in the city park by eliminating areas that could easily burn. Plus, he added, the brush pieces would act as mulch and new growth would speedily return.
       Going back to look at some of those bullhog areas a few days ago, Will was glad at what he found. A variety of plants have filled in and look healthy. They're not as tall as he would like, but he attests that to a hot, dry summer and extensive deer “browsing.”
       In addition to the expected gambel oak, the plants include chokecherry, wild rose, sumac and dogsbane. “We've created a species diversity by letting in the sunlight,” Will exulted. He noted that the chokecherry in particular had been “in dormancy and sprouted in response” to the clearing project.
       One outcome he admitted he had not been certain about was whether weeds would proliferate in the bare spots. But such has not been the case. “I'm pleased,” he said. “There are very few weeds.”
       The project last year covered 42 acres in different parts of the park, limiting the machine clearing to areas with at least 70 percent dead oak brush. Areas Will returned to last week were near the North Gateway Rocks, off the Breytag Trail, and around the Scotsman campground. The clearing/thinning work was part of continuing fire-mitigation project, started in 2005, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service grant and the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Foundation (using a percentage of proceeds from the Visitor Center). The first two years, the work had involved individual workers cutting back growth along the park's roadways, but the machine (technically called a masticator) is more cost-efficient in larger areas - “even though,” as Will put it, “it's loud and it looks like some big dinosaur in there.”
       He pointed out that similar clearing strategies have been used by other agencies in the region that are responsible for large forest stands. These include the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, the Forest Service and El Paso County. Colorado Springs Fire recently announced a project using a masticator in Bear Creek Park starting in August.
       Another 40 acres in the 1,319-acre Garden is slated to get the bullhog treatment this fall, Will said. His hope is to make the program ongoing, with the goal of going back into areas to thin back the gambel oak about every five years.
       Overall, he described what he's seen so far from last year as “a success.” The project “has changed some people's minds,” he said. “I hope it just keeps on going.”

Westside Pioneer article