Reader: Heavy machines are not 'ecologically sound' 

click to enlarge PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck

I really liked your article "Branching Out" (News, May 24).

This is a classic example of myopic fuel reduction without regard for season of the year, landscape position, breeding bird conservation or other riparian area values.

This is not "ecologically sound" emulation of anything natural. Running a masticator indiscriminately through valleys in springtime is not an ecologically sound management practice.

And doing high disturbance biomass removal during spring breeding season is just not a Best Management Practice.

If they knew the differences between these species, no one could mistakenly identify Rocky Mountain maple as Russian olive. The problem was that the trees had not leafed out, and the operations could (and should) have been deferred. If the trees were leafed out, then the crews either had not been properly trained, or they did not care.

This is a classic example of bureaucratic expediency (faster, cheaper) and what happens when heavy machinery operators, who do not have forestry or ecological management training, are hired to do a single-purpose operation (masticate) in a multipurpose park and open space area [Stratton Open Space].

Sure it is an easier operation to run the machines down the flatter creek than work on the hillslopes, but this kind of indiscriminate approach to fuel mitigation, denigrating riparian landscapes which comprise a very small percent of the landscape, won't really provide much fuel reduction in the big picture. Instead it damages legitimate careful efforts to thin forests and reduce fuel loading, and destroys present-time habitat and beauty.

Open space land managers would do well to develop Best Management Practices for fuel mitigation with respect to patch size creation and season of operations; leave alone areas to be done by hand; and work with local conservation organizations and wildlife managers before beginning operations to avoid unintended consequences dictated by grant rules, deadlines, bureaucracies, and operational schedules.

— Dr. Judy von Ahlefeldt, Landscape ecologist, Colorado Springs

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