Roaring Fork Valley Restoration Strategy

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1 Roaring Fork Valley Restoration Strategy Future Forest Roundtable

2 Future Forest Roundtable Roaring Fork Valley Restoration Strategy T he restoration strategy in the Roaring Fork Valley of the White River National Forest aims to identify and prioritize restoration projects to improve conditions on the ground and enhance natural ecological process. The strategy is based on the input and partnership of Future Forest Roundtable (FFR) participants. The FFR is a community-based, collaborative effort begun in The five restoration themes of the strategy are: forest health, watershed restoration, recreation restoration, biomass/bioenergy and conservation education. The restoration efforts of the strategy include the unique opportunity to coordinate the public education offerings of FFR partners, monitoring to adapt restoration to climate change, and creating economic opportunities in the restoration arena as part of an effort to diversify the local economies of the Valley. The White River National Forest is the lifeblood of the communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. The forest inspires a multitude of social, cultural and economic values essential to the way of life in the Roaring Fork Valley. The health of the forests and watersheds are vital to the long-term sustainability of the area. Intact forest ecosystems provide the natural capital, including clean air and water, upon which all life and all human economies depend. Restoration of these natural systems is an investment in regaining the natural capital that has been diminished by fire suppression, invasion by exotic species, lack of proper maintenance, watershed degradation and neglect. Sound forest restoration requires an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach rooted in conservation biology and ecosystem restoration principles that include preserving and protecting intact landscapes; actively restoring landscapes that have been degraded and creating quality restoration jobs and encouraging conservation-based economies all within the context of monitoring and adapting to climate change impacts. In the simplest terms, restoration projects are designed to move forest ecosystems toward a higher level of ecological integrity and resiliency. The primary goal of ecosystem restoration is to enhance ecological integrity by restoring natural processes and resiliency. Effective forest restoration should reestablish functioning ecosystems. Ecological integrity can be thought of as the ability of an ecosystem to support and maintain a balanced, adaptive community of organisms having a species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to that of natural habitats within a watershed.

3 Sound restoration must balance achieving restoration goals with the cost of restoration, while giving priority to ecological effectiveness. However, because ecologically sound forest restoration is a long-term natural process that will not always provide short-term benefits and may not pay for itself, a timeframe for economic analysis must be utilized that recognizes the long-term benefits of restoration (e.g., clean water, restored fire regimes). Economic incentives that drive the degradation of forests must be replaced with restoration incentives that protect and restore ecological integrity. The FFR collaboration will ensure that the process of advancing ecological restoration is open, inclusive and transparent, and will contribute to communitybuilding efforts with benefits beyond those relevant only to the landscape. Ecological restoration is a vital component the long-term economic and social viability of communities within the forest ecosystems. The restoration efforts to ensure a healthy forest ecosystem within the landscape of the Roaring Fork Valley must reflect the globally significant environmental initiatives for which the Valley is known. A highly skilled, well-compensated workforce is essential for restoration to meet high ecological standards, and to support efforts to diversify local economies. This will require a commitment to regional training capacity, multijurisdiction and interdisciplinary collaboration, skill certification, and consistent funding over decades. Call for Collaboration As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the forests and watersheds of the White River National Forest are vital to the ecological and economic well being of the surrounding communities. Forests provide a multitude of benefits to millions of people. To sustain these benefits there is unquestionable need to take proactive and collaborative restoration actions to improve the current conditions. In order to meet these pressing restoration needs in response to mounting climate, economic and social pressures, the collaboration of all stakeholders in the forest is required. In March of 2010, stakeholders including land management agencies, representatives of local governing bodies, and environmental organizations came together to begin a process of organizing that collaboration through the Future Forest Roundtable. Participants in the FFR have given their consent to continue to develop and nurture the working agreements and understanding necessary for shared ownership of the restoration strategy. Managing for Climate Change The biological state of the White River National Forest is intricately tied to the climate of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Numerous studies focused on the water availability for the Upper Colorado Basin indicate that climate change will likely drive significant change in the climate of the region reducing snowpack, timing of runoff, and soil moisture during the summer and fall.

4 Despite uncertainties as to the nature of future change, all of the major studies indicate an increase in temperature and most a decrease in annual precipitation. The latest U.S. Global Change Research Program report (2009) on the likely impacts of climate change on our ecosystems indicate: alteration of the processes that control growth and decomposition large scale shifts in species range increase in insect pests, disease pathogens and invasive weed species decrease in habitats of some mountain species and coldwater fish, including trout increase in fire risk, frequency, extent, and intensity breaking up of existing ecosystems, migration patterns For a successful restoration plan, an adaptive management plan that includes climate change and the associated bioclimatic interactions is critical so that the restoration effort accommodates both anticipated and unforeseen changes in the forest and its health. The following is a summary of the most pressing restoration issues in the Roaring Fork Valley. Watershed Restoration The primary focus of this theme is to complete watershed and stream projects that are currently reducing the ecological function and water quality in the Roaring Fork watershed. The goal is to reduce degradation and to implement on the ground projects to restore affected areas. The water that comes from the White River National Forest is the lifeblood of the valley. Streams and creeks feed the major rivers, which are the primary water source for the residents of the communities. Healthy watersheds are absolutely vital for the future of our communities. By protecting and restoring the upper reaches of these watersheds, we can insure a viable water supply for future generations. The State of the Roaring Fork Watershed Report, 2008 provides an excellent overview of the watershed condition and issues ( The following four areas are identified as major focus areas for watershed restoration on the White River National Forest in the Roaring Fork Valley: 1. Riparian areas Reduced cover/shading Reduced allochthonous input (leaf litter) Bank erosion and failure

5 Noxious weeds Compaction of soil Loss of biodiversity/habitat Reduced age-class diversity and vegetation structure Loss of connectivity Disconnection from channel 2. Instream areas Reduction of pools Reduction of cover and velocity breaks Loss of large wood recruitment Disease Introduction of non-natives Loss of channel complexity Sedimentation 3. Water quality Runoff from agriculture and developed lands Unregulated human and animal waste Increased stream temperature Heavy metal from mining activities 2. Change/disruption of stream flow Loss of channel maintenance flows Lower base flows Changes in timing of flows 3. Climate change Contributing to changes in flow Riparian and instream area impacts Vegetation Restoration Vegetation restoration will focus primarily on the treatment of fuels in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), the creation of more diverse vegetation age-classes, improving wildlife habitat and the removal of hazard trees affected by disease (bark beetles). Vegetation health in the Roaring Fork Valley has been adversely affected by a variety of things; the exclusion of fire and fuel build-up, bark beetle infestations and lack

6 of age-class diversity for several vegetation types. Aspen stands in the Roaring Fork watershed are a particular concern. Approximately 85-90% of these stands are mature or over-mature. As the stands age, they become more susceptible to Sudden Aspen Decline (SAD) and will eventually die off. Aspen provide habitat and forage for a variety of big game species and neotropical birds as well as an important aesthetic component of the area. Noxious weeds are lethal to the ecological function of forest and grasslands. Weeds destroy native species and do not provide adequate habitat for wildlife in the area. The goal of the restoration strategy is to systematically improve the vegetation components of the valley. The following describes the type of vegetation restoration projects that are most needed in the Roaring Fork Valley. 1. Treat WUI and reduce fuels in and around communities and facilities 2. Remove hazard trees near roads, trails and recreation facilities 3. Treat meadows and oak and shrub lands with prescribed fire and mulch and chop to improve wildlife habitat 4. Cut and burn as aspen stands to improve age-class diversity and improve wildlife habitat. 5. Treat and exterminate noxious weeds. 6. Reforestation of forest vegetation improve age-class diversity 7. Cut and burn conifer stands, which are encroaching on meadows, aspen and shrub lands. Cutting and burning of aspen stands outside of the WUI area is a concern to some of the community members in the Roaring Fork Valley. Additional dialogue needs to take place, along with a comprehensive education and information effort before these projects are implemented at a large scale. Recreation Restoration The Roaring Fork Valley is synonymous with outdoor recreation. Millions of visitors come to the area each year to ski, fish, hunt, hike, snowmobile, ATV, mountain bike, camp, mountain climb or simply to enjoy the breath taking scenery. The facilities that support these endeavors are in disrepair. The economic benefits of these activities are a significant (probably the most significant) part of the economies of the communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. To insure the long-term sustainability of recreation on the Forest, significant restoration and improvement of the facilities and infrastructure is vital. The following is a list of the most problematic issues facing recreation resources in the valley: 1. Degraded Facilities and Trails Campgrounds, trailheads, access roads, trails and outhouses are in desperate need of repair and restoration. Without properly maintained facilities, the experience of visitors is degraded, unsafe, and the impacts to the natural resources are profound.

7 2. Poor signage and inadequate visitor information Visitors to the forest need the basic information in order to properly use the resources. Often times there are inadequate signs and information available to them. Many of the kiosks and trailhead signs are damaged or in disrepair. By improving the information and signs, visitors will tread lighter on the land and impacts will be minimized. Signage is also a significant opportunity to educate visitors about restoration activities and pre-empt misconceptions and concerns. Biomass/Bioenergy Opportunities for biomass utilization for energy or other uses may be possible in the Roaring Fork Valley. Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and providing sustainable use of the wood products from the Forest is beneficial to the community and the ecosystem. At this point, feasibility of these types of operations is unknown. Efforts are underway to obtain funding for biomass feasibility studies in the Roaring Fork Valley. Biochar Biochar is one of the wood fiber by-products of restoration activities in the Roaring Fork Valley targeted for re-use in the local area. Biochar, charcoal produced from pyrolosis of wood chips, has shown tremendous promise as a soil amendment and remediation tool at many small scale trials. To maximize restoration, climate and employment benefits from this by-product, fiber will be targeted for use as local construction material in the form of house logs, wood fuels (firewood and biomass) and biochar ( ). The results of a study organized by The Roaring Fork Biomass Consortium, a subset of organizations within the Future Forest Roundtable, will help Roundtable guide the fiber utilization from restoration activities. These targeted uses are attractive in that they lend themselves to relatively more simple carbon accounting. Conservation Education Over the long term, the greatest restoration action we can take is to encourage a conservation ethic in the users of the Forest through increasing their ecological literacy. The Roaring Fork Valley has a unique opportunity to reach out to people of all ages and ethnicities and develop a strategic

8 conservation education program around the restoration theme. The following are some of the actions needed: Comprehensive inventory of existing programs; identification of needs Incorporate restoration education in the schools Roaring Fork Youth Conservation Corps Develop collaborative public education campaigns around specific restoration projects Use a variety of communication strategies and technologies Communicate why people should care and what specifically they can do Increase hands-on projects Outreach to the public and decision-makers Restoration Criteria All Restoration Project Planning should use the following criteria: 1. Take a thoughtful, careful, and collaboratively vetted approach. 2. Utilize best available science and incorporate experiential and indigenous knowledge where applicable. 3. Make use of an adaptive and public process that regularly incorporates revisions from monitoring and evaluation. 4. Restoration treatments should use the least intrusive techniques that will be effective in order to avoid negative cumulative effects to watersheds and wildlife. In some instances a higher level of proactive management is needed to restore ecological integrity. 5. Comply with and uphold all applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations. 6. Budgets must include realistic and dedicated funding for and an institutional commitment to assessment, monitoring and evaluation, with systems designed and in place before activities commence. 7. Include climate change monitoring and/or response where appropriate.

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