The Transformation of Slumgullion Pass

January 18, 2016

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Lake City, Colorado

For well over forty years I have driven over Slumgullion Pass near Lake City, Colorado and marveled at the huge pine trees and deep forest that lined highway 149. The huge trees seemed to reach the beautiful blue skies overhead. The forest was home to thousands of birds, herds of deer and elk, several lonely grouchy old Bull Moose, and hundreds of smaller animals living on the forest floor.

Many years ago a far sighted Forest Ranger authorized a timber sale on top of the pass where he selectively marked the trees to be harvested.  When the trees were removed the forest became even more beautiful and accessible with the sunlight helping the mushrooms grow in abundance.  Hiking, cross country skiing and horseback riding became available where the trees were removed and turned into useful lumber.

For the past several years when we would drive over the pass toward Creede we could see in the distance the devastation being caused by a tiny destructive little beetle that multiplied by the billions and destroyed millions upon millions of those beautiful pine trees. We were always told that the only hope of stopping the tiny beetle was a terribly cold winter that would freeze and kill the larva before it hatched in the spring.  For years we had mild winters and the dastardly little beetles would survive and move several miles closer toward Slumgullion Pass.

The beetles did arrive and the beautiful forest on the pass has been destroyed.  Now when I drive over Slumgullion I sincerely have to slow down and try to determine exactly where I am.  The pass has completely changed.  The Forest Service has done an incredible job removing the dead trees along the highway and it has made it possible to see beautiful views that had always been hidden by the tall pine trees.

Daily I sit in the office and I see a constant flow of huge logging trucks filled with dead trees passing thru Lake City on the way to the new state of the art saw mill in Montrose. Thousands upon thousands of these once beautiful pine trees are being converted into useable lumber and in the process are creating hundreds of jobs.

We are very fortunate that Slumgullion Pass is blessed with vast areas of Aspen Forest that are not affected by the destructive little beetles.  These Aspen Forest still house the birds, herds of deer and elk, and even make a home for the grouchy old Bull Moose and recently I have seen many cow elk with  new calves by their side. The smaller animals still run and play and the larger animals now have new growth to feed on in the open areas and they all will do very well in the new environment.  The tree removal has open incredible vistas that make the drive over Slumgullion Pass still one of Colorado’s most beautiful.

You have to wonder if more had been done to thin the forest like our Forest Ranger so many years ago, if the total destruction of the pine forest could have been averted.

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