Forest health assessment

Aaron Kimple, standing, a member of the project team for the Upper San Miguel Basin Forest Health Landscape Assessment talks about concerns for forests in the region at the stakeholder meeting on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Jessica Kutz/Telluride Daily Planet)

In an effort to help Telluride and the surrounding areas mitigate future threats to forest health in the region, local stakeholders gathered Monday afternoon to provide input for a forest health landscape assessment.

The assessment will be used to inform the public and to guide regional land management decisions on both public and private lands, according to Elizabeth Stuffings, program coordinator for the San Miguel Watershed Coalition.

At the meeting, stakeholders narrowed down goals and priorities for the proposed map, defined the boundary of the assessment, and determined next steps. 

Formally titled the Upper San Miguel Basin Forest Health Landscape Assessment, the project is expected to be complete by June, and will include a map of the area that will identify forest health values as defined by stakeholders and areas of concern in the region. 

Values included aesthetics, safety, recreation, ecosystem health, wildlife, community resource needs and clean water. Concerns included beetle activity, disease in subalpine fir, declines in aspens and large areas where trees were blown down, Stuffings said. 

An additional priority voiced at Monday’s meeting was the inclusion of the non-recreation economy as an added value, specifically in the form of grazing land for agriculture and forest products like timber.

The project is also guided by Aaron Kimple, program director for the Mountain Studies Institute and Jason Sibold, a geographer from Colorado State University.

At the meeting, it was decided that the map will comprise the San Miguel Watershed boundary down to the Leopard and Specie Creek drainages. This area includes aspen, Douglas fir and spruce/fir forest types. 

Sibold said it is important for a place like Telluride, where the economy is dependent upon outdoor activity, to understand forest health and threats so that there are no surprises in the future. 

Sibold will be creating the assessment based on what is defined at the stakeholder meetings. 

In attendance were employees from the U.S. Forest Service; officials from San Miguel and Ouray counties, Mountain Village, Ophir and Telluride; members from local nonprofits and conservancy groups; and Jeff Proteau, vice president of mountain operations at Telluride Ski Resort.

Kimple said the main goals of the assessment are to “develop a tool that can assist a conversation in future planning efforts” so the community can work together to “address local issues and concerns of the residents and the people who live among these forests every day.” 

Stuffings said the assessment is meant to serve as a guide and will not recommend specific treatment strategies for the community. 

“It will be up to the stakeholder group and the community to utilize the map as a tool to consider forest health treatments that may be appropriate for Upper San Miguel Basin communities,” she said.

On April 24, participants will again convene to view a preliminary landscape assessment map, which will be presented by Sibold. 

According to Stuffings, “Stakeholders will be able to provide input on the map and discuss whether or not it is successfully capturing the community’s identified forest health values and concerns,” at the meeting. 

The final map is expected to be completed by June 12 and will be available online. 

The project’s funding partners include Colorado State University, the Town of Mountain Village, San Miguel County, Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association, Telluride Ski Resort and the Town of Telluride.

For more information about the project or to get involved in the next stakeholder meeting, contact Elizabeth Stuffings at info@sanmiguelwatershed.org.