A homeowner in Greenhorn Gulch will undertake a project this fall to cut 115 burned trees on the north-facing hillside behind his house and replant the slope with Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine seedlings. The project is the first of several expected to be proposed in the near future to revegetate private lands blackened by the Beaver Creek Fire last August.
On Thursday, Aug. 28, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a Mountain Overlay site-alteration permit for the project at 241 Greenhorn Road, just west of the junction with Imperial Gulch.
“The community was hit hard by a natural disaster—all our acreage was scorched,” property owner Arthur Rubinfeld told the commission. “Our approach is to do this properly and do it so that it’s an asset to the community. It’s a view corridor as well as our own backyard.”
Alpine Tree Service arborist Carl Hjelm said the company’s 135-foot-tall crane can reach most of the dead trees on the approximately 1.4-acre site and pull them out vertically. He said the others can be felled so they drop down to a level accessible by the crane. He said the work would take up to two and a half weeks to finish.
Hjelm said the expected survival rate of the seedlings is about 50 percent, so twice the number of trees that will be cut will be replanted.
“Our approach is to do this properly and do it so that it’s an asset to the community.”
Rubinfeld said aspen trees are already growing naturally at the foot of the hill and spreading upward.
He told the P&Z that no road would be built in conjunction with the project.
In a letter to the commission, Sawtooth National Recreation Forester Jim Rineholt said Ponderosa pines exist naturally in the area. He said they more quickly become fire-resistant than do Douglas firs and are less prone to creating ladder fuels that promote crown fires.
“It could provide a level of diversity should the next decade be as dry as the previous one,” Rineholt stated.
Neighbor William Potter expressed support for the project, pointing out that the many dead trees on the hillside pose a safety hazard. He said other homeowners will be watching to see how Rubinfeld’s project goes.
“We’re in uncharted waters right now,” Potter said. “There will be other applications going through in the next year or so.”
Far more extensive rehabilitation work has been done on public land in Greenhorn and other areas burned by the fire. In November, a five-day, $1.6 million aerial seeding project was carried out on 5,900 acres in the Greenhorn, Deer Creek, Croy Creek and Warm Springs drainages. In addition, straw mulch was dropped by helicopter on about 570 acres in Greenhorn and Imperial gulches to reduce erosion there.
Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said in an interview that Forest Service employees will be assessing results of the project over the next couple of weeks.
“The indications that we’re seeing show good results both for the aerial seeding and the native vegetation that’s coming back,” Nelson said.