Cheley Colorado Camps has begun a forest restoration project on a 160-acre tract of land in the southwest portion of their property, flanking the Homer Rouse Recreation Trail. Using science-based forest restoration research and prescriptions, this project aims to reduce severe wildfire risk, mortality from insects and disease, as well as improve water quality. For the past 100-200 years, societal practices have modified the structure and composition of our forests through fire suppression, overgrazing, etc. These practices have led to undesirable and uncharacteristic fuel conditions, poor wildlife habitat, and unhealthy trees. In turn, these undesirable conditions can lead to degradation of soil health and water quality. This project was designed to restore forests back to their true natural state, providing better resiliency to insects, disease, fire, and extreme weather events.
The staff of Cheley Colorado Camps have collaborated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Big Thompson Conservation District (BTCD) to implement forest restoration practices during late 2017 through August 2018. The project goals are to:
• Return trees densities to their historical state to reduce the risk of catastrophic disease/pest infestation or wildfire
• Create openings for quaking Aspen, native grasses, forbs, and shrubs to re-establish.
• Mimic historical disturbance regimes through mechanical treatment to boost healthy forest structure and improve wildlife habitat
To achieve these goals, this work will include a variety of practices to suit the forest types at varying elevations in the project area. For example, because lodgepole pine is a species that relies heavily on its neighbors to grow and withstand the strong wind conditions in the mountains, traditional thinning approaches lead to significant amounts of blow-down in the short- and long-term. Therefore, to achieve the conservation benefits this project seeks, in areas with high densities of lodgepole pine, there will be large patch-cuts with islands of trees left as wildlife cover and re-seeding reserves. In lower elevations where the historically dominant tree species is ponderosa pine, the prescription will favor ponderosa and limber pine retention. This treatment type will generally seek to remove lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir in a more traditional “thinning” approach.
In the years following project completion, expect to see a substantial increase in quaking aspen, native grass, wildflower, and shrub regeneration. Lodgepole pine seedlings will also proliferate in the new openings. Overall, the project area will have improved age, size, and species diversity that will in turn provide habitat and forage for wildlife. Although the project may appear to be destructive at first glance, forest ecosystems depend on disturbances to maintain their vital functions. The project’s goals are to improve forest function for many years to come. Cheley Camps have always tried to take a long-term/strategic approach to management done on the property and feel this project will help to strengthen the forest in the Estes Valley. Cheley Camps are honored to be involved in this program and look forward to the healthier landscape that this treatment will provide.
While this project is underway, managers ask the public to adhere to posted trail closures, keep pets leashed, and to avoid the active cutting areas as they can be extremely dangerous. More information can be found in the project’s informational pamphlets located at the Estes Valley library, town hall, visitor center, and Homer Rouse trailheads.