Telski helicopter logging operations have begun, and will continue through September. The work will reduce wildfire risk and promote forest health. Above, a shot of similar operation that was completed in the White River National Forest in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Colorado Forest Service)

Telski began helicopter logging operations near chairs 9 and 10 last week in a joint effort with the National Forest Service. Logging operations are Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and are expected to continue through September, officials reported.

The main objective for the logging operations is to promote the growth of young, healthy, more resilient trees by removing dead and diseased trees. These efforts also reduce the risk of forest fires, as well as prohibit damage to the forest caused by beetles and budworms.

“By removing all these standing, dead trees and clustered and dying and diseased trees, we open up the canopy, so a lot more sunlight can hit the forest floor and in that way, we get a lot more regeneration,” said Scott Pittenger, director of mountain operations for Telski.

Pittenger noted that this project has been a long time in the works, stemming from a vegetation management plan that was completed in 2015.  

“As our knowledge has increased and as we've developed a stronger relationship with the Forest Service, we've become more in tune with what we can do to best help the forest both for forest health, for fire mitigation, for aesthetic value and for skiing and recreation around the hill,” Pittenger said.

Todd Gardiner, zone silviculturist for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, further explained that the helicopter logging operation is a two-part initiative to not only help manage vegetation on the mountain but also to support the Forest Service’s environmental impact statement (EIS).

“We do have harvest operations all over the forest, so this one in the ski area is relatively small-scale, but it's still good work,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner further explained that the EIS work is also part of SBEADMR, which stands for spruce beetle epidemic aspen decline management response. According to Gardiner, the beetles have been having a hay day in the national forests.

“Across the landscape, from Wolf Creek Pass to Silverton to Gunnison to Monarch, north to I-70, we have spruce beetles on the landscape that are killing a lot of the mature trees,” Gardiner said.

Dead trees aren’t just bad for overall forest health, they also equate to an increase in potential fire hazards.

“We've been working a lot in the ski area over the last several years and doing mitigation work to try and keep spruce beetle activity at the minimum,” Gardiner explained.

Both Pittenger and Gardiner spoke about the necessity of using helicopters for on-mountain logging operations.

“Any type of forest management in this zone is extremely difficult. It's very steep terrain, access is limited,” Pittenger explained, adding that the steep terrain limits the type of equipment that can be used.

“The tool to use is the helicopter and that gives us the ability to remove all this timber that's diseased, dying, a hazard and just more fuel for any potential fire in this area,” Pittenger added.

“The biggest challenge of working in the ski area is we don't generally work on slopes that steep. It's very difficult,” Gardiner said.

Pittenger said that the dead trees and logs harvested from the Chair 9 area are being taken to one of two other areas; either to the bottom of 9, where the logs will be burned, or to an area near Chair 10, where merchantable timber will be processed and taken to a mill.

“That's the way the Forest Service would really like to start mitigating a lot of these projects is through fire, similar to a controlled burn like what they're doing right now out in Dolores and Boggy Draw,” Pittenger explained. “We don't have the type of environment where we feel comfortable doing a controlled burn in the 9 areas, so we're taking all this material to somewhere where we are more comfortable burning.”

During logging operation hours, trails will be shut down that are under the flight path in an effort to protect the public from potential injury.

“We just want to make sure that everyone's being as safe as possible and steering clear of those flight paths,” Pittenger said.

The logging operations not only help to promote forest health, but also contribute to improved conditions for skiing as well.

“We're trying to do these forest health improvements, yet we're also going to improve the skiing experience to some of these areas where there's just a bunch of really tight and falling over and dead trees,” Gardiner said.

Pittenger noted that logging operations will help skiers navigate the areas around Chair 9 better.

“We're pretty excited to get this going. We think people are going to be ecstatic once they get into the woods and are able to ski some more terrain. We really think it's going to help out the flow over in the Chair 9 area,” he said.

“It’s something that we think is going to be ultimately a great benefit to the environment and also to recreation,” Pittenger said.

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