Narrative Description: The Burn Canyon area was a vibrant community of trees, shrubs, forbs, and wildlife with the ponderosa pine reigning supreme in this forest community. That was until a lightning bolt in the early afternoon of July 9, 2002 changed it all. By the time the fire was officially declared out, over 30,000 acres evolved into a charred landscape. The flames, making no distinction between boundaries, passed through Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private lands. In all, 10,397 acres of the Norwood Ranger District, 11,445 acres of BLM, and 6,976 acres of private lands were burned. Revegetation activities on the Norwood District began shortly after the fire. The Forest Service also moved forward with planning and implementing two salvage timber sales. In the Burn Canyon and Bucktail Salvage and Reforestation Environmental Assessment, the Forest Service stated its intention to “accelerate the ecological restoration of the burned areas” by planting ponderosa pine seedlings in all of the salvage sale units. Additionally, up to 2,116 acres of unharvested burned Forest Service lands would be planted with ponderosa pine seedlings. Local ponderosa pine seed, collected prior to and in 2003, was used to grow seedlings at Forest Service nurseries in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Bessey, Nebraska. In the Black and Decker Salvage Sales, the timber sale purchasers were required to cut and leave dead trees which were smaller than those designated for removal. The intention was to use these down trees to create microsites favorable for the survival and growth of the planted ponderosa pine seedlings. After being felled, the trees were placed in an east-west direction. The seedlings would then be planted on the north side of the logs where shade and moisture prevails.
In the spring of 2004, the Norwood District started its reforestation commitment in Burn Canyon. Approximately 153,700 one-year-old, container-grown ponderosa pine seedlings were planted by a contract planting crew over 424 acres of unharvested land. Using “hoedads” the tree planters planted the seedlings at an 11 foot by 11 foot spacing. To aid in the survival of the seedlings, the tree planters also installed tree shelters, plastic tubes twelve inches in height and about four inches in diameter over the seedlings. The overall survival for the first year was 80%. The following spring, only 178 acres of harvested land were planted. An outbreak of Fusarium root disease at the nursery limited the supply of seedlings for 2005 to 60,900. As in 2004, seedlings were planted with an 11 foot by 11 foot spacing and tree shelters were installed. The tree planters also utilized the down logs, stumps, dead standing trees, and oak brush where it was available. The overall survival for the first year was 66%.
We started to notice areas that supported the best seedling survival. The planting prescription evolved to include a requirement to plant seedlings only where down logs, stumps, dead standing trees and oak brush existed. The seedlings would be planted with a nine foot by nine foot spacing within six inches of where these microsite protection materials existed. This planting prescription was applied in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Tree shelters were also installed in those years to give the seedlings an extra edge towards survival. A table showing planting acreages, number of seedlings planted, and the current overall survival follows this report. This year, we finished planting all the harvested units and returned to planting in the unharvested areas. The planting prescription was adjusted to an 8 foot by 8 foot spacing where the microsite protection material existed. We decided to forego the use of trees shelters this year and tighten the spacing to allow for seedling mortality. In 2010, Norwood District will be planting exclusively in the unharvested areas. Many of the standing dead trees that existed after the fire have fallen to the ground providing excellent microsite protection material.
The greening of the charred landscape of Burn Canyon has been gaining momentum these past few years. Forbs, grasses, oak brush, and other shrubs are thriving. Elk and deer herds are utilizing this area as are other wildlife. And, now, a young forest is emerging from the ashes of the Burn Canyon fire.
Contact: Jim Tambling, Norwood RD, 970.327.4261
3rd Congressional District-Colorado