Upper Monument Creek

A volunteer crew leader trained in crosscut sawing helps with fuel reduction on the project.

BACKGROUND

Located along the steep eastern edge of Colorado’s Southern Front Range and abutting cities and communities in El Paso and Douglas Counties, the UMC Landscape of 67,000 acres in the Pikes Peak Ranger District is hugely important to area residents as a network of watersheds and a recreational area, among other considerations. With an increasing abundance of forest fuels, resulting from strict fire suppression since the last large-scale fires and logging in the 1890s, the Landscape also poses an elevated hazard for residents in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

Supporting numerous ecosystems within the Montane Zone, the UMC is dominated by 3 systems: Ponderosa Pine-Douglas Fir Woodland, Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland, and Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland Systems, which comprise nearly 85% of the Landscape’s area. A fourth system, the Montane Riparian System, comprises a small 5%, yet plays an important role in habitat diversity, water quality, and in providing breaks in forest fuel types. 

The UMC Landscape Restoration Initiative began in 2012 with an understanding of the dramatic impacts that the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 had and would continue to have upon adjacent communities. The extent of the Landscape Initiative is shown in Appendix A. The UMC Collaborative membership sought ways to restore forest areas included in and north of the burn area to more resilient conditions and to reduce the risks of a similar catastrophic wildfire in this priority area in the future. The desired future conditions of the Landscape include:
(1) A diverse landscape mosaic with forest composition and structure that reflects variation in topography and underlying moisture gradients.
(2) Landscape diversity provides for natural disturbance regimes that are within the natural range of variability and are socially acceptable.
(3) Forest stands exhibit fine-scale heterogeneity in structure and tree spatial patterns.
(4) Landscape and stand-scale heterogeneity provide diverse habitats for wildlife.
(5) Watersheds are stable and hydrologic processes are intact.

Management actions sought by the Pike & San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) in support of these desired future conditions were analyzed in an environmental impact statement (EIS) and include: mechanical thinning, manual hand thinning, and site preparation followed by prescribed (broadcast) fire. RMFI work in the Ensign Gulch in 2017 was a pilot project for management actions under the Initiative. The manual hand thinning directly or indirectly supported most of the desired outcomes in a riparian swale and immediately surrounding aspen stands and meadows.

The Ensign Gulch site is located approximately 6 miles east-northeast of Woodland Park, CO and is a tributary to South Beaver Creek, draining into Monument Creek between the U.S. Air Force Academy and Monument, CO. The 2017 project area of focus is centered on U.S. Forest Service Route 314’s crossing of the gulch and extending for approximately 4 acres on the east and 6 acres on the west sides of this crossing (Figure 2). This riparian swale section was subject to advanced stages of uninterrupted forest succession. Spruce forest (primarily Engelmann and Blue Spruces) have encroached below the north-aspect slope of the gulch and into the bank-full channel to shade out willow patches and aspens, and are occasionally established singly or in small groups in the middle of willow patches. Spruce and Ponderosa Pines are not yet uniformly-established down to the bank-full channel on the south aspect slope, but are encroaching upon meadows and aspen clones/stands adjacent to the bank-full channel.

Where not substantially shaded by overstory conifers, willow shrubs dominate the banks and low-lying areas adjacent to the gulch drainage. Aspen clones are established in several south aspect meadow areas slightly upland from the drainage. In most of these clones, conifers are encroaching or have over-taken aspen as the dominant species. A power line corridor bisects the west work site area and the utility company has removed most trees within that corridor.

2018 WORK OBJECTIVES

Under the same agreement with the PSICC, RMFI plans to continue forestry and restoration work toward prescription objectives in the Ensign Gulch area in the fall of 2018.

PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS

U.S. Forest Service - Pike & San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC)