Connected to the Land

An opening created during mountain pine beetle epidemic is filling in with trees.

Not everyone feels connected to the land. For some people, the forest is more of a scenic backdrop for their house, instead of a dynamic environment that they influence – either by action or lack of action. Chaffee County landowners Charles and June Moore instead have been active participants in improving the health of their forested property.

In the early ‘80s, the Moore’s were searching for future retirement property; someplace where they could enjoy all four seasons. During a ski vacation, they began looking at property in Chaffee County, and in 1982 purchased the property they now own. It sits at the base of Mount Shavano, where the piñon pines give way to ponderosas and a meadow provides a stunning view of the valley floor.

Recently, on a cozy winter day, the couple recalled their long experience as forest landowners. Early on, the couple planted some seedling trees near the house and aesthetically tidied up the property, but the real “cry for action” came in 1997. The mountain pine beetle population was growing in Chaffee County and the Colorado State Forest Service hosted a meeting to make forest-owning landowners aware of the beetle and available control methods. Realizing the mountain pine beetle could quickly change the landscape, they became proactive by annually removing beetle-infested trees over the next nine years. During that time frame, they removed nearly 400 infested trees from 60 acres.

Creating a Healthier Forest

June and Charles Moore stand by a young, healthy ponderosa pine tree.

In the midst of the beetle epidemic, the Moore’s invested in a forest management plan to guide their efforts to improve overall forest health and maintain wildlife benefits. For the past 12 years, the couple has implemented the plan recommendations.

“Forests shouldn’t be ugly, and if you do nothing, forests can be sterile. They shouldn’t be sterile,” Charles said.

They found contractors to thin the forest, and the couple stacked branches for later burning or chipping. Piles were lit, wood chips spread. Lower limbs on trees along the road were pruned. As a result of their efforts, the forest is now healthier. The property has a spectrum of very old to very young trees, there are more Abert’s squirrels, wild turkey wander through, and the property is easier to explore on foot. Currently, the couple is reducing the amount of dwarf mistletoe, a parasitic plant, in the ponderosa pines and removing small, scrawny trees under larger trees.

The Moore’s enjoy young and mature trees alike. Diversity in tree ages makes the forest more resilient to natural events.

“Dealing with the beetles were something I had to do, dwarf mistletoe is now something I want to do,” Charles said.

“When mountain pine beetle was happening, dwarf mistletoe seemed like such a slow-moving killer, and something we did not have to address,” says June. “Had we acted sooner, we probably could have saved some trees we are now cutting.”

But the Moore’s are addressing dwarf mistletoe, and in doing so have created a healthier environment for young trees repopulating the openings created during the beetle epidemic.

“I’ve worked with the Moore’s since 1997,” reflected Kathryn Hardgrave, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service in Salida. “They have witnessed the benefits of actively caring for the land, which in turn fuels their commitment as stewards. When I walk the forest with them, they point out what they still want to do, and June ‘works’ as we walk, except it isn’t work to her. It’s a real pleasure interacting with them.”

They do not know if one of their children will develop the same connection they have to their land, but when it is passed on, they do know it will be a much healthier forest.

Charles summed it up: “There’s a difference in owning a piece of property and the property being a part of you. People need causes, and you need to enjoy what you’re doing. Outside happens to be a big part of our life.”

Outside, in the healthier forest they call home.