Concern about Garden’s ‘patches’
The Aug. 16 Westside Pioneer included an article headlined “City Forestry: Bare patches only temporary, to help Garden grow,” which describes Colorado Springs Forester Dennis Will's plans to use a masticator to rip out large patches of scrub oak in the Garden of the Gods as part of the fuel mitigation program. I frequently ride horseback through the Garden and have observed these “bare patches.” I take exception to Mr. Will's affirmation that areas with at least 70 percent healthy vegetation are being spared. Having seen some areas dozens of times before their clearing, I can testify they had at least that much healthy vegetation. Furthermore, I am aware that around 5 acres have been cleared out of a planned 43. This concerns me for several reasons.
Firstly, despite Mr. Will's assertion that individual patches are not large enough to cause erosion I have seen where it has already occurred. In some areas the vegetation was removed from slopes that drain into washes, the perfect recipe for erosion. This problem is exacerbated because the masticator rips out vegetation, roots and all. In a controlled burn the underground roots are left intact to help mitigate erosion, but not so with this method.
Secondly, the masticator shreds the uprooted vegetation and spreads it over the ground as coarse mulch. Having used mulch of this sort for years, I know it has the effect of occluding growth and can take years to “break down” into the soil. The article states, “the expectation is that grass and wildflowers will fill in as well.” However, this is exactly the type of plant growth that heavy mulching will inhibit.
Thirdly, park employees work hard to educate the public about the importance of staying on trails. To this end, there are signs explaining the area beyond is a “reclamation area” or a delicate ecosystem and not to walk through it. But the public can't be expected to take these warnings seriously when they can plainly see the “delicate ecosystem” has been ripped through with a masticator. This could lead to more “trail forging” by park guests which will only further inhibit new plant growth and worsen erosion.
While I understand the need to clear dead vegetation to help prevent a potentially devastating fire and keep other vegetation healthy, the destructive method being used may cause more harm than good. Using a masticator is probably attractive from a cost and labor perspective, but when dealing with a public resource as important as the Garden, those should not be the only factors considered. The long term health of the park is at stake. The time and cost it could take to repair the damage being done may negate the costs and time saved by using the masticator in the first place. With a little more planning and care, an alternate method could certainly be devised.