A tree with rotten fruit

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A tree with rotten fruit may seem to have no value, and its decay is the beginning of the end for the world of nature.

In recent years, many forest managers have recognized that some of the largest and most charismatic trees of the West may actually be the most valuable. In their natural state they serve a myriad of vital ecological functions that extend well beyond their ability to produce food and shelter.

The National Forest Foundation, which is conducting a comprehensive assessment of forest resources and ecosystems in the United States, discovered that the average value of timber in these old-growth forests exceeds the commercial value of many large timberlands. (See “Forest Resources” on page 30.)

As our national forests were turned over to private industry, the land values of these national forests plummeted.

A recent national poll by the United States Forest Service found that more than 95 percent of the public thinks the economy is important to protecting America’s national forests, while the majority (53 percent) said the environment is at least as important.

With these values in mind, the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region established a working group of foresters, biologists, biologists, and other professionals to identify and implement projects that would enhance the ecological value of its national forests in the Front Range region.

The group was charged with coming up with strategies that would allow the agency to preserve these forests and, if needed, to provide long-term research facilities.

The recommendations of the working group were to be implemented in concert with a comprehensive regional planning process that will be completed in 2016.

“We did not have any time limit on how long these initiatives should last,” said John De La Torre, chief of resource management for the Rocky Mountain Region, which encompasses Colorado. “We’re going to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Saving old growth

These forests have more than 20 million acres, which are almost all private, deeded national forests.

According to a Forest Service estimate, of the 3.8 million acres that make up the federal forests within Colorado’s borders, 1.6 million acres are old growth or have tree growth that was established before World War I.

While many of the younger trees have been harvested, many of the mature trees remain.

“Some of the oldest trees in the world are on the national forests,” De La Torre said.

According to the Forest Service, the oldest tree in Colorado is located in the Flat Tops Wilderness in Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest, which has trees reaching almost 3,000 years old.

At a meeting of the Colorado Forest Task Force held in June, the Forest Service estimated that about a third of the old growth in the state is within the Front Range region.

De La Torre said about two-thirds of the trees are on private land, but that the Forest Service has the ability to help people harvest these trees.

De La Torre said federal law requires the Forest Service to help people in private land manage forests to promote the health and stability of the land. If these older forests are to survive, old growth needs to be harvested.

De La Torre said the Forest Service will begin an outreach program to help property owners manage trees on their land.

“We have to get in there to make sure it’s done properly,” he said.

However, De La Torre noted that it will take time to help people understand that a portion of these forests are valuable resources.

The Forest Service is also working on identifying which forests are the most valuable.

“We’re still in the very early days of developing a comprehensive statewide inventory,” De La Torre said.

He said while there is not one forest in particular that is valuable, there are some forests that may be valuable because of the biodiversity they contain.

“These are unique ecosystems,” he said.

De La Torre also noted that some old growth is valuable for people.

“Some people would be willing to pay a lot of money for trees,” he said.

De La Torre said the Forest Service will work with people in the private sector to help them identify and manage trees on their land.

“It’s not only a public policy issue,” he said. “It’s an economic issue and a social issue.”

De La Torre said that old growth forests hold much promise for helping people recover from natural disasters.

“Many of the trees are survivors from the last ice age and that’s where some of the old growth is,” he said. “A lot of the old growth trees are fire resistant, which is very valuable.”

De La Torre said he expects a comprehensive inventory of old growth to be completed within two years.

“I’d love to see this completed in time for the celebration of National Forests in September,” he said.

De La Torre said the Forest Service is also partnering with the Oregon Tree Foundation, which aims to protect all Oregon forests.

“They are the experts in protecting old growth,” he said.

The Oregon Tree Foundation also holds annual gatherings around the state, De La Torre said.

One of the goals is to identify protected lands that need to be managed with the utmost care.

“We want to save as much as we can,” De La Torre said.

The Forest Service announced the initiative Monday.

The Oregon Tree Foundation will work with the Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry to complete a survey by the end of the year, which will help decide what land needs protection.

If there are concerns about a particular parcel of land, a request to “designate” it as a special old growth reserve will be made to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The Department will have 30 days to respond.

When they do, they will make a recommendation to the Forest Service for management of the land.

“If it’s designated as old growth, the Forest Service has to do their best to work with the landowner to protect the trees,” De La Torre

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