RIO GRANDE COUNTY — The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) recently completed one of several seedling projects in the West Fork Fire Complex burn scar with the hope that the species of trees planted will help stabilize loose soil and help re-establish new grow in some of the most ravaged areas. In the eight years since the West Fork Complex Fire, revegetation and regrowth have been the focus for many organizations throughout the San Luis Valley and beyond.
According to project managers with RGNF and Public Information Officer Gregg Goodland, “The objective for planting in the Papoose burn is to reestablish native forest cover in areas that are not quickly recovering from the fire through natural regeneration. Planting units within the burn are selected according to management objectives established by the RGNF Land Management Plan. For example, no planting would occur within the wilderness area, because the intent there is for natural processes to occur, without human intervention. In some cases, planting could speed up reforestation by hundreds of years due to the lack of a nearby seed source. In the Dyers Creek project, the planting of Ponderosa pines was done to establish native drought-resistant trees that are non-hosts for a chronic forest pest, the western spruce budworm. This activity follows previous treatments that addressed western spruce budworm impacts to natural stands through mastication and commercial thinning.”
Planting projects occurred within both the 2013 Papoose Fire and the Dyers Creek area. The area planted in the Papoose burn covered approximately 100 acres and is located above Love Lake near Creede. The Dyers Creek project was approximately 21 acres and is located near the Cathedral Campground.
Just over 22,200 Engelmann spruce seedlings were planted in the burn area, while another 5,000 seedlings were planted on the Dyers Creek project. A contract crew was used for the larger project, while the smaller one was performed in-house. In both cases, the seedlings were grown from seed collected within the same seed zone and similar elevation as the planting site, right here on the Rio Grande National Forest.
“The non-profit organization American Forests paid for the seedlings used in the Papoose burn. Local donations made to the Forest Service Plant-A-Tree program helped provide cold storage for seedlings. Seedlings need to be stored at around 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit until they can be planted; otherwise, they will mold and deteriorate quickly. We are very grateful for the contributions that help this reforestation work happen,” explained Goodland.
The purpose of American Forest grant programs is to, “Allow individuals or groups to voluntarily contribute funds directly to the Forest Service for tree planting on National Forests as a positive and personal step toward improving the environment. According to the Internal Revenue Service, contributions to this program qualify as charitable deductions under section 170(c) (1) of the Internal Revenue Service code.”
“No planting is planned on the Rio Grande National Forest for 2022, but we expect to continue planting again in 2023. The Forest often plants between 200-300 acres per year, dependent upon needs and logistics. No planting will occur in 2022, due to access issues along the Shaw Lake road,” stated Goodland.
The burn scars in the Rio Grande National Forest are a sight to be seen when traveling in the area. Many of the burnt trees are visible from several backcountry roads which offer beautiful opportunities to witness the land healing from the fires. Caution is always urged to those who venture into the areas as trees and soil can become unstable over time and should be avoided on windy days or during storms.
For more information on the project and funding, visit www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/donations/plant-a-tree.