Spruce Beetle Epidemic & Aspen Decline Management Response (SBEADMR)

PURPOSE

The Spruce Beetle Epidemic & Aspen Decline Management Response team strives to understand what effect management styles have upon land affected by spruce beetles. CFRI supports the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Sibold Biogeography Lab at CSU in producing science-based information that aids the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forests in implementing adaptive management strategies in beetle impacted spruce-fir forests. Specifically, SBEADMR is designed to allow a more nimble adaptive management response to rapidly changing forest conditions associated with insect and disease outbreaks. The goals of this project are to gain a better understanding of spruce and aspen regeneration dynamics following disturbances such as spruce beetle outbreaks, aspen decline, harvesting, and wildfire.

CONTEXT

In the past decade, spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) outbreaks and sudden aspen decline (SAD) have affected approximately 40% of the spruce and aspen forest stands in the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forests. Beetle and insect outbreaks are part of natural disturbance cycles, but drought and unusually warm temperatures may have heightened their effect and tree mortality is expected to continue into the future.

Given the rate of mortality and rapidly changing forest conditions, the agency considered an alternative approach to increase the pace and scale of forest management treatments than is typically possible in conventional forest planning processes. While conventional planning processes can take years to complete, SBEADMR uses a more flexible approach that allows the US Forest Service to designate large swaths of land as priority treatment areas, and then select specific stands each year based on current conditions. The US Forest Service has proposed to treat a maximum of 120,000 acres to reduce public safety threats, re-establish desired forest conditions, and enhance the resiliency of at-risk forest stands.

OUR INVOLVEMENT

CFRI staff (listed below) works collaboratively with Dr. Mike Battaglia of the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Sibold Biogeography lab at CSU to implement field monitoring efforts across the National Forests.  Additionally, CFRI is actively involved on the collaboration’s established Science Team that leads efforts to disseminate results and guide the adaptive management process across these affected forests.

The Science Team acts as an independent advisory group and ensures that the best available scientific information is incorporated into the SBEADMR adaptive management process. Their monitoring is based on SBEADMR goals and desired conditions, and additional objectives and questions defined by the Adaptive Management Group and other stakeholders. Data collection, analysis, and reporting occurs annually.

METHODS

Permanent monitoring plots were initially installed in areas of the forest that were slated for salvage logging by the U.S. Forest Service.  Pre-treatment monitoring was conducted in 2015 and 2016, and post-treatment monitoring is ongoing.  Monitoring pre- and post-treatment areas intends to inform proposed projects, but results to inform adaptive management strategies will take time, and changes in forest structure may not necessarily be attributable to forest management activities.

IMPACTS

SBEADMR has proven to be a successful model in adaptive management and collaboration that has increased public participation and trust among stakeholder groups. By efficiently analyzing a large project area with an adaptive framework in a single NEPA document, it has reduced the total cost of planning and implementation of projects on the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forests. The SBEADMR model was replicated in the Taylor Park Environmental Assessment and Adaptive Management Group, and contributed to the Wilder-Highland rapid Categorical Exclusion proposal to target mountain pine beetle-affected lodgepole pine forest on the Gunnison Ranger District.

RESULTS

The SBEADMR Environmental Impact Statement assessed a 207,000 acre area and identified 120,000 acres with potential for treatment.  As of October 2020, 16,173 acres have been awarded as timber sales with over 270,000 CCF of timber volume produced.

The SBEADMR Science team has conducted 6 years of monitoring. Major findings include:

(i) Salvaged stands had higher mortality of seedlings, saplings, and trees than unsalvaged areas. However, regeneration is abundant across the forest, and highest in the areas that had been managed before the beetle outbreak.

(ii) Engelmann spruce seed production is highly variable in space and time, and seedling establishment is dependent on a host of bioclimatic and topographic variables. These variables should considered when selecting species for post-salvage planting.

(iii) Unsurprisingly, snowshoe hare (a prime prey source for the Canada lynx) abundance appears to be lowest in salvaged areas and highest in areas that haven’t been logged. Snowshoe hares prefer dense cover, which is most prevalent in unlogged sites. It is important to continue to avoid salvage activities in high-quality Canada lynx habitat.

SBEADMR ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT GROUP

SBEADMR was designed to create a collaborative process to assess landscape-scale treatments that provide long-lasting ecological, social, and economic benefits, and contribute to a resilient future forest. While conventional planning processes for forest use can take years to complete, SBEADMR uses a more flexible approach that allows the US Forest Service to designate large swaths of land as priority treatment areas, and then zero in on specific stands each year based on current conditions. While this novel approach provided flexibility for management response, it also generated concerns from local stakeholders because of the lack of specificity about the proposed projects and the areas that would be treated.

Stakeholders wanted science-driven management decisions, and had concerns about the impacts of temporary logging roads, disruption to recreational users, impacts on wildlife, and lack of public input on specific projects. To address these concerns, the US Forest Service agreed to fund an independent science advisory team to help identify treatment locations and inform the adaptive approach and decision making. The US Forest Service also supported stakeholders’ interest in convening a working group that later evolved into the SBEADMR Adaptive Management Group (AMG). The AMG was originally convened by the Public Lands Partnership (PLP), and built on successful collaboration already established between the long-standing local collaborative, CFRI, and the US Forest Service. Members of the working group include county commissioners, timber industry representatives, conservation groups, water resources, recreation, wildlife, education, and at-large community members. The AMG serves in an advisory role to assist the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forests with the implementation and monitoring of SBEADMR projects within the adaptive management framework.

Intro to Adaptive Management Group

The SBEADMR Adaptive Management Group (AMG) evolved to establish a more formally structured citizen-based collaborative group to assist the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) with the implementation and monitoring of SBEADMR projects, and the adaptive management framework outlined by the final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.

The subtabs below contain the various documents specifying the operating protocol and standards for the AMG.

Record of Decision

Adaptive Management Process

Transition notes to initiate SBEADMR Adaptive management group

Memorandum of Understanding

Operations Manual

Monitoring Committee

Communications Plan

Annual SBEADMR Timeline and Roles

In accordance with Appendix E of the SBEADMR FEIS, each year the public and interested stakeholders are invited to interact with GMUG staff and Science Team members on a SBEADMR implementation field trip. The annual field trip is scheduled during late July/early August. The field trip focuses on pre-treatment areas; however post-treatment and monitoring activities may be viewed on the same field trip.

The subtabs below contain the agenda, field notes and other pertinent information for each field trip for the given year.

2016: Willow Mesa, La Garita and Pauline Salvage Projects

2017: High Mesa, Overland Reservoir and Hubbard Park

2018: Interdisciplinary Team Review Field Trip Cathedral Peak

2018: Alpine Plateau

2019: Big Park Salvage Project

2020: Bald Timber Sale

Intro to Annual SBEADMR Stakeholder Meeting

Each year, the GMUG National Forest hosts a mid-winter SBEADMR Stakeholder meeting. The annual meeting is a full day meeting designed to address the various levels of information desired by the different stakeholders. The meeting includes both general updates about the SBEADMR program, and detailed technical presentations from the Science Team with ample time for in-depth discussions with the Science Team and Forest Leadership team about the research and monitoring efforts related to SBEADMR projects.

The subtabs below contain the agenda and links to the specific agenda presentations and/or documents for each of the respective annual meetings.

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Intro to Annual Reports

Over the years the Forest Service, Science Team and AMG working together have identified and developed various annual reports and internal working documents  geared to the specific need or interest of a particular audience, e.g., Forest Service Leadership Team and specialists, AMG membership and the public. These documents include information about the work of the Science Team, annual reports that serve as a public record of the annual adaptive management decisions for the SBEADMR project, and the annual community report with summary information for the community at large.

The above referenced reports and working documents are attached below.  Please note that the identification and development of the reports did not all happen in the first year of SBEADMR.  Annual reports have been attached to the year for which the report was written.

2019

2020

In early 2014, the GMUG sponsored a public information meeting on the proposed SBEADMR project and its accompanying Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Given the public’s interest and concern with the proposed project, the Public Lands Partnership (PLP) issued an invitation seeking interested individuals to join a working group to bring together individuals representing diverse interests to share information and resources while working together cooperatively towards agreement, to provide suggestions/recommendations to the GMUG, and enhance understanding of the proposed action.

The subtabs below contain Working Group agendas, meeting notes, and other documents that were part of this collaborative process.

Working Group Documents

Meeting History

Pre-Decisional Civic Learning

US Forest Service Strategy

STAFF
Kevin Barrett
Tyler Beeton
Hannah Brown
Tony Cheng