Collaboratively-developed restoration goals of the project are to:
- Enhance the resiliency, diversity and productivity of the native ecosystem on the Uncompahgre Plateau using best available science and collaboration.
- Reintegrate and manage wildfire as a natural landscape scale ecosystem component that will reduce the risk of unnaturally severe or large crown fires.
- Restore ecosystem structure, composition and function. The protection and restoration of ecosystem structure, composition and function encourages viable populations of all native species in natural patterns of abundance and distribution.
- Preserve old or large trees while maintaining structural diversity and resilience; the largest and oldest tress (or in some cases the tress with old-growth morphology regardless of size) should be protected when feasible from cutting and crown fires, focusing treatments on excess numbers of small young trees where this condition is inconsistent with Historic Range of Variability (HRV) conditions.
- Reestablish meadows and open parks and re-establish grasses, forbs, and robust understory communities.
- Manage herbivory. Grass, forbs, and shrub understories are essential to plant and animal diversity and soil stability. Robust understories are necessary to restore natural fire regimes and to limit excessive tree seedling establishment. Where possible, defer livestock grazing after treatment until the herbaceous layer has established its potential structure, composition, and function. Project partners will work with the CDOW to manage big game populations to levels that will contribute to successful restoration treatments.
Specific treatment objectives for the major vegetative communities within the project area as well as examples of proposed types of projects include:
Sagebrush. Restoration treatments are needed to improve the understory, increasing available forage for both wildlife and domestic livestock. The GMUG will work closely with the CDOW to target key Gunnison sage-grouse habitat areas as well as take advantage of biomass potential of pinyon-juniper in reestablishing key openings. At least 1,800 acres of sagebrush treatments are planned, mostly mechanically treated.
Pinyon-Juniper (PJ). The PJ cover type is currently the largest cover type on the Plateau. Funds will be used to masticate 2,500 acres. This will create a more natural, complex patch mosaic of seral age classes with improved spatial heterogeneity that favors natural, moderate sized (500 to 1,000 acres) wildfires. The treatment units will also be designed to reduce invasion into other cover types.
Mountain Shrub (MS) (oak/service berry/mountain mahogany). Mastication projects with follow-up prescribed burning are proposed on 7,000 acres to mimic natural fire disturbances, and result in a patch mosaic with 10 to 15 percent of MS in early seral stage. The resulting mosaic will improve forage and grazing and also limit the size of large crown fires when they occur.
Ponderosa Pine (PP). Restoration in the PP cover type will reduce tree density; improve spatial heterogeneity where it exists; protect old-growth ponderosa pine; increase structural diversity in the long term; and create fuel conditions that reduce the likelihood of uncharacteristic fires, by reestablishing the high-frequency, low-intensity historic fire regime. Both commercial and noncommercial treatments will be accomplished with mechanized equipment. As a means of reintroducing fire to the landscape, post-harvest prescribed fire will occur. The intent is to reduce surface and ladder fuels, create conditions favorable to the growth of grasses, forbs, and shrubs, and then to continue using wildfire as a management tool to maintain these ecosystems overtime. 7,700 acres of PP treatments are NEPA-ready, and over 15,000 acres of PP treatments are proposed.
Mixed Conifer (MC) (Ponderosa Pine/Aspen/Douglas Fir/Blue Spruce/Engelmann Spruce/Sub-alpine Fir). Restoration treatments in the MC cover types will reduce tree density and develop more open conditions characterized by multi-age structure and multi-species tree composition. Because the future is expected to be hotter and drier, treatments will create conditions favorable to Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and aspen regeneration over blue spruce. Prescriptions will generally favor the perpetuation of aspen on the landscape by encouraging regeneration. Both commercial and noncommercial treatments will be accomplished with mechanized equipment. Most areas will receive follow-up broadcast burning. The fire regime in the cooler, moister mixed-conifer forest was undoubtedly a less-frequent mixed severity regime; fire in places would creep through mixed conifer forest, consuming little fuels and killing only small trees while in other areas torching and killing groups or patches of large trees. The reduction in surface, ladder and canopy fuels will result in a lower risk of stand-replacing fire and will create the conditions necessary to reinitiate the historic mix severity fire regime. Over 4,000 NEPA-ready restoration projects include the Unc Mesas Project and treatments along Western power lines; over 11,000 acres of MC treatments are included in this proposal.
Aspen. There is an urgent need to treat aspen stands, which are predominantly 80 to 120 years old and therefore less resilient to Sudden Aspen Decline (SAD). SAD is a relatively recent phenomena, not described by regional insect and disease experts until 2007. Foresters estimate that approximately 37% of the aspen cover type on the Plateau is impacted by SAD and predict an increasing amount of mortality caused by SAD in the future. There is an immediate need to regenerate aspen stands through harvest, mechanical or fire to stimulate regeneration; early seral stage needs to increase by about 10-fold. In the absence of some disturbance, these stands will eventually succeed to shrub or conifer dominated cover types. Approximately 11,000 acres of NFS aspen projects are planned, including over 600 NEPA-ready acres.
Spruce-Fir (SF). Management activities that increase diversity in age, size and seral conditions are critical for ameliorating wildfire spread and insect/pathogen outbreaks. There is excellent potential for biomass utilization and stewardship contracting. Funds generated from these commercial harvests will be used to offset the cost of restoration work in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer. Approximately 4,000 acres of SF are proposed for treatments, of which 550 acres are NEPA-ready.