Opportunity to Comment on Wilder-Highlands Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project

Contact(s): Kim Phillips, Dylan Peters

Gunnison, Colorado, February 3, 2020 – The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests’ Gunnison Ranger District is seeking public to comment on the Wilder-Highlands Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project. The project will focus on the treatment of lodgepole pine forests experiencing a bark beetle outbreak near the Wilder On the Taylor and Gunnison Highlands communities northeast of Gunnison.

In the summer of 2019, US Forest Service personnel identified trees in declining health near the Wilder Subdivision. Surveys determined that mountain pine beetle was causing the epidemic levels of decline on both private and National Forest System lands. The primary purpose of the project is to treat the mountain pine beetle affected stands, reduce the risk of mountain pine beetle spread, and to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires in the wildland urban interface.

The project’s proposed action includes sanitation, salvage, and long-term preventative treatments on potentially 2,860 acres of private and National Forest System lands. The GMUG will coordinate a cross-jurisdictional response effort with the Colorado State Forest Service and National Forest Foundation. This joint effort will allow mitigation treatments to occur on both public and private land. Under the Wyden Amendment (Public Law 109-54, Section 434), federal funding can be used for treatments on private lands. The amendment authorizes the Forest Service to enter into cooperative agreements with willing private landowners for the protection, restoration and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat and reduction of risk from natural disasters, including insects and disease.

“This project is designed to rapidly respond to this outbreak with the goal of minimizing the beetles spread,” said Gunnison District Ranger Matt McCombs. “Mountain pine beetles are a normal part of the ecosystem and regularly snack on small pockets of pine forests every year; the similarly aged, tightly growing lodgepole forests of the Taylor Basin are a readymade feast for these critters and our work here will hopefully keep them snacking versus the banquets we’ve experienced in other parts of the state” McCombs continued.

Additional information is presented in the Scoping Letter and supporting documentation, which can be found on the project webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57554 

A public meeting is scheduled for February 10 from 10 am-1 pm at Western Colorado University, Kelley Hall room 151. Options will be available to join the meeting remotely. An opportunity to collaborate in the development and implementation of this project will be available for interested members of the public. Comments on the project will be accepted through February 20. See the Scoping Letter for more information on the public meeting, collaboration and commenting on the project.  

Wilder on the Taylor and Gunnison Highlands landowners interested in participating or looking for more information can contact Mike Tarantino, Colorado State Forest Service Forester, at Mike.Tarantino@colostate.edu or at 970-641-6852.

For additional questions, please contact Pamela King, USFS NEPA Planner, at 970-642-4436 or prking@fs.fed.us.