By Joseph Robertia
Summer hikers — and, soon, skiers — traveling along the southern end of Resurrection Pass and the Bean Creek Trail will have better views courtesy of a Chugach National Forest project to reduce the potential for wildfires and improve habitat for wildlife.
“A lot of the area was thick with beetle-kill, so you really realize how much land is there once it’s opened up,” said Joe Ford, Chugach vegetation project manager.
The project began in 2010 and runs from the two trail heads along the Sterling Highway in Cooper Landing, north to where they connect to each other just above Juneau Falls.
“The total project area is around 700 acres with around 250 acres along the trails. Roughly 210 acres will be treated for hazardous fuel reduction and 40 acres for habitat improvement for wildlife,” Ford said. “It only runs to where the two trails interconnect because, north of that area, the habitat changes, and there is more hemlock than dead or down spruce.”
Treatment for hazardous fuel reduction includes the removal of fallen, dead standing and dying unhealthy trees to reduce potential sources of fire ignition.
“Some of it is being removed, if it’s sound with at least a 6-inch diameter or more than 9 feet long,” Ford said “The smaller stuff was put into piles to be chopped and burned during the winter months, beginning in October of 2014, since the project should be done with the clearing phase by the end of next summer.”
Trees along the two trails were thinned into 100 foot-wide corridors on both sides of the trails. Ford said that this reduction in ladder fuels will provide a reduction in risk of torching or crown fires in areas near human access points, while still providing a natural appearance and enough cover to hamper understory grasses from thriving, which can be extremely flashy fuels during dry periods.
Nicole Longfellow, a hazardous fuels reduction planner, said that the work along the trails was done by Forest Service crews, with some of the larger project areas done by contracted workers, utilizing heavy equipment to mechanically treat some areas and bring out lumber. Their work is not yet complete.
She said that recreationalists in these areas should avoid the active logging areas and, “Be aware that the people running the machinery cannot hear over the equipment and are not expecting to see people.”
Treatment in these larger areas is being done for wildlife habitat improvement and will involve cutting patches from one-quarter to up to 30 acres in size.
“The idea is to create more hardwood for moose and other species,” Ford said.
By removing spruce, other species — such as birch and willow — can proliferate. In the larger cut areas, the patches will be made long and narrow to still provide cover for moose and other ground-dwelling species. Mature aspens will also be retained for goshawks and other migratory bird species.
To learn more about this or other projects in the Chugach area, visit the Forest Service’s website, www.fs.usda.gov/main/chugach/home.