The chainsaws are your friends – fire mitigation project in Red Rock

       Seeking to limit the potential for wildfire, crews with chainsaws are scheduled Nov. 19 to start cutting back oak brush that's gotten too thick and Siberian elms that don't belong in two locations totaling 77 acres on the Westside.

A thick growth of scrub oak - a probable candidate for chainsaw work - stands in the foreground while in the background are houses in the Red Rock Canyon Estates subdivision and natural features in Red Rock Canyon Open Space in this view looking north from a rise inside the city park.
Westside Pioneer photo

       By far the larger area is 73 acres along the west edge of Colorado Springs' Red Rock Canyon Open Space, next to the Crystal Hills subdivision in Manitou Springs. The other four acres is off Gold Camp Road near the Section 16 Trailhead, just south of the open space.
       The work will start in the larger area, according to City Forester Dennis Will, with the first target being a large stand of elms. Twenty-member crews from the Mile High Youth Corps will be working there on a daily basis, he said.
       Lasting about 28 weeks and using a mix of state and city funds, the work will be accomplished under a contract between the Youth Corps - a Denver-based organization specializing in outdoor conservation programs - and the Colorado Springs Forestry Division.
       No trails will close because of the work, Will pledged.
       Much of the vegetation being cut will be bushes or trees that are dead or dying (accounting for more than 40 percent of the flora in all), Will said. The elms are considered “invasive” because they kill off more desirable indigenous growth such as willows and cottonwoods, he elaborated.
       Both elms and scrub oak often grow densely, which makes them perfect fuel for a wildfire.
       The main goal of the cutting program is to reduce the chances of a fire spreading rapidly through open land near houses, Will summarized at a presentation on the upcoming plans at a meeting in Manitou Nov. 7.

Looking west from the Red Rock Canyon Open Space, a thick area of scrub oak rises up in the foreground, with houses in Red Rock Canyon Estates at near right and Manitou's Crystal Hills on the ridge in the background. City Forestry's upcoming fire mitigation project will attempt to thin out such growth areas.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In the Red Rock/Crystal Hills area, the city has an even broader concern - that if the undesired vegetation got ignited somehow and there was an upslope wind, it could lead to a catastrophe equivalent to the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, one that might this time engulf all of Ute Pass.
       Fire mitigation is not only effective, resulting in healthy forests, it costs five times less than fighting a fire, according to a 2007 Congressional Budget Office study.
       “Doing nothing is not an option,” Will emphasized to the meeting attendees.
       A question from the audience asked if the cutting might cause erosion, especially on the slope leading uphill from Red Rock to Crystal Hills, but Will said it shouldn't because the roots of the trimmed vegetation will still be there.
       Will's presentation included a list of “Restoration Standards.” Among them were an intent for “more ponderosa and aspen and less Douglas fir”; “preservation of larger, older trees”; and “attention to rare species or habitats.” Another list, titled “Project Treatments and Oversight,” mentioned that trees to be cut will be marked, bird surveys will occur, and City Forestry will check the work progress daily, with “informal reviews by the Colorado State Forest Service and multiple stakeholders” and “formal review by the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute.”
       Using $1 million in city reserve funds, City Forestry has organized similar mitigation projects at several other locations in the past year, including two on the Westside. Will outlined them as follows:
       “Camp Creek - a small elm and New Mexican locust removal project along Camp Creek at Rock Ledge Ranch; we removed other invasives as well, such as green ash and Russian olive. That project scope was about three acres. We worked on those mid- to late spring of this year. We also tree-spaded about 20 Rocky Mountain junipers to create a screen between the neighborhood south of Chambers and the activity areas in the meadow near the blacksmith shop.
       “Garden of the Gods - Siberian elms and a little oak brush dead-wooding along the Hamp Trail, just north of Garden Drive. We also cleaned up the roundabout island of elms and junipers for visibility concerns.”
       Another tree-cutting/thinning project, in part of the Westside's Sondermann Park, was also completed recently, using a different funding source, Will said.
       City officials have received some negative feedback on that work, but disagreed with citizens who felt the Youth Corps cut more than necessary.
       Will said he hoped that announcing the new 77-acre project in advance would help the public understand what was going on and why it's necessary.

Westside Pioneer article