GUNNISON, Colo. – The Colorado State Forest Service, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests and National Forest Foundation began implementing the Wilder-Highlands Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project the week of June 8. The project focuses 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, USDA Forest Service personnel identified trees in declining health near Wilder on the Taylor, a historic ranch located on more than 2,100 acres. Surveys determined that pine beetle was causing the epidemic levels of decline on both private and National Forest 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 diminish the potential for catastrophic wildfires in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) near these communities.

The project, which was authorized earlier this spring following the federal NEPA process, is a holistic and highly collaborative effort among the project partners, including the CSFS, USFS, NFF, and Wilder on the Taylor and Gunnison Highlands communities. Private landowners within the project area have provided important project access to their road systems and land in order to protect the national forest and mitigate wildfire risk in Taylor Canyon.

Long-term preventative treatments

Activities will include sanitation, removal and long-term preventative treatments on nearly 100 acres of private and National Forest lands, including the use of traditional and mechanized logging equipment, as well as helicopter logging systems. Travelers on U.S. Hwy. 135 between Almont and Gunnison, as well as those heading up Taylor Canyon toward Taylor Reservoir, CR-742 or traveling along Wilder Mountain Road or Lost Canyon Road/CR-743, may encounter logging trucks removing materials from the project site.

“The NFF is proud to be partnering closely with the Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, Wilder on the Taylor and Gunnison Highlands to implement this important project,” said Marcus Selig, vice president at the National Forest Foundation. “Together we are working hard to help stop the mountain pine beetle outbreak and protect the forests that we value so much.”

“Wilder is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the traditions of western Colorado, and part of that is being a good steward of the forests on the ranch and adjoining Gunnison National Forest. We appreciate being part of this partnership to help stop the spread of bark beetles and to mitigate forest fire risk in Gunnison County,” says Michele Wheeler, a representative of Wilder on the Taylor and homeowner.

“I am extremely impressed at the rapid collaborative effort that has taken place over the past few months aimed at reducing potential impacts from mountain pine beetle in the Taylor River and Taylor Park areas. Although mountain pine beetles, in small populations, are an important native beetle to our western forests, we are hoping to keep them in check so we continue reaching our goals of managing for diverse, healthy and resilient forests in the future,” said Sam Pankratz, supervisory forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.

For more information, contact Joe Lavorini, Gunnison County stewardship fund coordinator, at (720) 670-6254 or jlavorini@nationalforests.org.