ENVIRONMENTAL

WHY THE FERGUSON FIRE DIDN'T DESTROY YOSEMITE WEST

February 22, 2019

A great example of our community and how mitigation can save us in the long run. 

2019 RUSSIAN OLIVE INFESTATION

February 25, 2019

By Mandy Gordon

 

One of the many invasive species we have in the Retreat is the Russian olive tree. There are about a dozen of these small trees here, mostly along Streamside. It is classified as a noxious weed in Colorado and its cultivation is banned. Unfortunately, it is also quite difficult to kill. Just cutting it down isn't enough, as it sprouts many more shoots from the stump (like a willow). You must poison it within minutes of cutting with 41% glyphosate, which is available from Home Depot for about $10.

 

Spread the solution along the outer edges of the cut; the tree will transport the poison down into the roots. This method is said to be 90% effective, but you'll need to monitor the stump in case it isn't. While the Internet says you can kill them at any time of year, poisoning them in the spring when the sap is running will probably work best. this item about? What makes it interesting? Write a catchy description to grab your audience's attention...

NEW WATER RESERVOIR

February 25, 2019

By Mandy Gordon

 

In 2007, some far-sighted residents installed a 10,000-gallon underground reservoir on Bulwark Ridge to give firefighters immediate access to water. This is especially important when you consider that the creeks in the Retreat, and even the North Fork, can be encased in ice during winter. The undertaking was very expensive, costing close to $20,000.

 

Now take a look at the Retreat today, all but choked in overgrowth and downed trees. We've had two cabin fires in the last several years, and only luck and the incredible response times of our fire department have prevented them from taking the whole valley with them. It's not hard to see the need for access to more readily available water; the last thing we need is for firefighters to be hacking through the ice while your cabin burns.

 

Homeowner's insurance has also become increasingly difficult to obtain. After the tremendous liability brought on by the recent California wildfires, it may reach the point where insurance companies will no longer offer new policies in forested areas (don't let your current policy lapse). You can't sell your house if the buyer can't get insurance.

 

But the price of a new reservoir like the one on Bulwark has more than doubled. While we can apply for a matching grant from forestry agencies, we're still required to come up with roughly $20,000 ourselves. We're looking into getting grants for some of that too, but it's likely we're going to need some money from the membership, probably in the area of $50-100 each.

 

Assuming we can manage to raise enough funds, the new reservoir will be on Copper Hill, as the fire department has identified that as the next most-vulnerable area. Later, we will see about installing reservoirs on Elkridge and Dunraven. Please give due consideration to this project and the potential consequences of continued inaction.

CHEAT GRASS...WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!

August 04, 2017

Look at the slopes above Copper Hill Rd. See all that brown? That’s cheat-grass. You can see it all over the south facing slopes along Hwy 34 as well. It’s almost a mono-culture in some areas. It is not native to the Americas, but was first seen as early as 1861. Since then it’s slowly been consuming the West.

It causes wildfires, generating flames 10’ high; the seed heads can penetrate eardrums, the skin in paws and around the anus, and lodge in gums and eyes; it displaces native vegetation, reducing forage for deer and elk. And you’ll want to throw your socks away after having walked through a patch. Disturbed ground is its friend. A gopher mound, a building site, digging, drilling, bulldozing, anything that exposes raw dirt. It’s an annual that germinates in the fall, shoots up in the spring to seed, dies in July, only to start the cycle again in a couple of months. We caused this, probably through ignorance, digging up the ground and not realizing what that little patch of brown that appeared each summer meant. Some of us have started fighting it, but we’re losing. There aren’t enough soldiers in this war. Eventually the entire Retreat will be eaten by this obnoxious plant.

 

So what are our options now that it’s here?

1. Pull it up. This is very effective if you have a small patch. It takes diligence, and you won’t see results immediately, but you will prevail eventually if you keep at it. You’ll likely generate quite a bit of material, so pick an out of the way, level, protected spot on your property and dump it all there. It should be easy enough to police that area if any of it germinates. It takes about 4-5 years to deplete the seed bank.

2. Spray it. This is a good option if you have large areas or difficult slopes to treat. The chemical isn’t cheap, but it kills cheat-grass without killing the native vegetation.

It’s a pre-emergent, so you’ll see a reduction in wildflowers too, but if you don’t get rid of the cheat-grass you’ll lose them anyway. The recommended chemical is Plateau ($230/gal), or you can try the generic version called Panoramic ($68/qt). The county used to use it on the roadsides until it became too expensive, but you only need a small amount so perhaps you could share some with a neighbor. Twelve-ounce containers are available from CSU for $19, enough to treat two acres (call Rita at 970-498-5768). The time to apply is late Aug/early Sept, but you can apply in May if you use a surfactant.

 

3. Weedeat the area while it’s still green. This isn’t a great option, and your timing has to be perfect, but if you can keep the seeds from maturing, you’ll eventually knock it down to where hand-pulling is practical. Constant mowing, however, can be very effective. The plant is going to die in July regardless; you just have to keep it from seeding until then. 4. Pay someone to do these things. The Eagle Rock School kids are available on weekend afternoons for $12/hr (each). Call Natalie at 970-586-7128. Or perhaps you can get a company to come out here (good luck). Yes, various agencies are working on a bacterium that attacks cheat-grass roots and eliminates the plant over 4-5 years, but it doesn’t work alone. You still have to help it along by killing the surviving plants, applying the bacterium with a sprayer each year, and reseeding. And who knows when it will be commercially available.

 

I know, you didn’t buy this property to spend all your time fighting invasive weeds, especially if you’re a part timer, but you can’t ignore them. Maybe you don’t care about their effects on your land, but those seeds don’t stop at property lines. Your disinterest will damage your neighbor’s property or the national forest, not to mention what it does to wildlife and the serious fire hazard it presents. We must fight this together. If you need help identifying problem weeds and your options for getting rid of them, contact Peggy Burch or myself. I’m sure one of us can point you in the right direction.

STREAM HEALTH AND DAM BUILDING

October 06, 2017

The following provides information on how to avoid damaging streams and addresses some of the specific concerns found in the Retreat watershed. We put a lot of effort into managing the surrounding forest and controlling insect infestation, but we are probably not as aware of what our streams need to remain healthy.

It's important to understand a few basic principles of stream dynamics and fish habitat. The streams in the Retreat have, over thousands of years, gradually developed a dynamic equilibrium between climate, geology, geography, and vegetation. Streams serve to carry not only the runoff from rain and melting snow, but also the material naturally eroded from the mountains in the form of silt, sand, and gravel. Stream bank vegetation keeps the channel confined to a certain width, while boulders and rock outcrops direct flow to form pools and define the character of the stream. There is a delicate balance between the size and shape of the channel, the rain and snowmelt runoff, and the sediment load that is easily disturbed by human intervention or by catastrophic events such as floods and fire.

Local small creeks usually contain brook trout which, while not a native species to this area, have adapted quite nicely to streams such as Miller Fork. They take advantage of the alder and willow­-shaded pools for cover and the gravel beds below the pools to spawn. The caddisfly and mayfly larvae found on the undersides of cobbles provide an excellent food source.

The dynamic equilibrium of a stream system can be disturbed by a number of factors, such as increased flow when soils are compacted and the rain runs off faster, soil erosion and increased sediment from roads or development, and from dams or flood events. When the equilibrium is disturbed, the channel attempts to make adjustments to the new sediment load or energy supply. A stream needs to be able to move a certain amount of sediment through its system to stay healthy.

After every major flood stream channels experience a geomorphic equilibrium “reset” and may require years or even decades to return to a stable condition. Streams in the Retreat need to make these adjustments as well. Black Creek underwent major overhauls in 1976 and 2013 when it was completely scoured out.. While Miller Fork was not scoured as severely, its adjustments are more subtle with bank erosion and eroding tributaries from the adjacent hillsides adding to its sediment load. It took nearly 30 years for these creeks to heal and approach their pre-1976 stable conditions when the 2013 event triggered another reset. Both streams again now carry sediment loads much higher than were found prior to 1976. These conditions make both Black Creek and Miller Fork especially sensitive to any activity we impose on them.

Most of us have enjoyed playing in streams on summer days, building small dams with rocks or wood in the hopes of creating pools that are attractive to brook trout. Many such dams exist all along the creeks in the Retreat. Their adverse impacts to pools and trout spawning beds develop gradually, and are generally unnoticed on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis, but carry long-term consequences.

Unfortunately, our well-intentioned efforts to build dams for fishery enhancement harm the very streams that we seek to enjoy. Any sort of dam on a stream slows the water just upstream of it. The sands and gravel that normally bounce along the bed of the stream along their way down the mountain ("bedload") drop out and fill the pool formed behind the dam. Over time the pool becomes shallower until there is no pool, only a wide, shallow streambed. The stream will eventually wash out around or through the dam, erode the bank and create an even worse problem. When the washout happens, flows scour down through the accumulated sediments to the stream bed’s normal elevation and all of the silt, sand, and gravel materials collected behind the dam wash downstream and can overwhelm the creek. As a result, fish spawning beds are smothered and the homes of the insect population (fish food) are covered.  It may take the stream years to attenuate and move these accumulations of sediment on through the system.

Alternatively, when you look at a stream, where do you find pools and deep holes? Are they above the boulders or below? They form below the boulders! Pools never naturally form above any sort of dam, or at least not for very long. Streams like to create pools downstream of rock or log obstructions. They do not like pools upstream of them. The bedload materials carried by high flows quickly drop out of the flow upstream of a dam and fill in the pool. If we wish to enhance the fishery, we need to work with, not against, the natural stream channel processes. Pools must be created below any structures set in the stream to take advantage of the energy that is available during high flow. Pools form below the sudden drops in the streambed where high-velocity water rushing over boulders or logs keeps pools scoured clean of sand and gravel. These holes provide wonderful hiding places for brook trout. Just downstream of the holes, the water slows to form sand and gravel bars where brook trout like to spawn.

What can we do? First, you can take special care to make sure that bare gravel driveways, roads and construction sites do not drain directly into the stream, but instead into some sort of vegetated buffer strip to filter out the sediment before it reaches the streams. Second, look for barren or eroding stream banks and get some willows growing in those places. The Bureau of Land Management puts out an excellent publication on starting willows by simply sticking cuttings into the ground (cheap and easy). Alder trees and other appropriate riparian shrubs can be obtained from local nurseries. And finally, pools and fish habitat can be enhanced in the Retreat with carefully designed boulder and log placements and revegetation along the banks, especially over sections where fish like to hang out and wait for food.

For some reason we like the stream banks to look like golf course greens. Nice and open and clean looking. However, the streams need woody vegetation to keep the banks from washing away and eroding your land. Brook trout prefer feeding in water that has overhead cover such as willows. So don't cut down the plants in order to get a better view of the stream.

Fishery enhancement is a wonderful thing to do, if it's done properly. If you have built dams in the streams, remove them and let the stream move the sediment on through as it needs to. If you would like to develop some pools, there are ways to do it. But it must be done properly. Most activities on streams in the Retreat are covered under the Clean Water Act and require authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

* Retreat member Steve Belz is a hydrologist who consults on stream restoration and fishery habitat projects. The Belz family has had a cabin on Streamside Drive since 1975. Steve received his degree in hydrology in 1983 from Colorado State University and has a consulting business based in  Northglenn, CO. He has offered to make himself available (free!) to any property owner along the streams in the Retreat for advice on their streamside property management. He can be contacted at 303-810-4992 (mobile), 303-920-2664 (office), or email Steve@BlackCreekHydro.com.

NOXIOUS WEEDS

June 01, 2017

We have many noxious weeds growing this season. It is important to get an early start on control. Larimer County Weed District will help individual homeowners with on-site inspections and consultations. They have native seed and herbicide for sale and sprayers and GPS units for loan. Call 498-5779 for information.

WILDFIRE MITIGATION AND DEFENSIBLE SPACE

September 01, 2017

Just how much of a problem is wildfire in Larimer County? Larimer County was ranked as the most hazardous county for wildfire in Colorado in a recent study. The potential for wildfires to burn structures and threaten lives in Larimer County will only continue to grow as more and more people move to the mountains. 

 The Retreat is at risk. We are one of the areas designated as red on the map. We are located in a wildland/urban interface area. This is one where the homes blend together with the wildlands. The addition of homes near wildlands interrupts the natural cycle of wildfires. 

Historically, fires in Ponderosa pine forest have been fast-moving ground level grass fires of low intensity. These types of fires occurred about every 20 years. fueled only by grasses, the fire never reached the crowns of the trees. Many years of fire intervention has resulted in increased fuels, not only in the actual increase in numbers of trees but also in the increase of "ladde" fuels. Ladder fuels are branches or shrubs between 18 inches and 6 feet high. Ladder fuels help convert a ground fire to a crown fire (treetops) which moves much more quickly and burns with more intensity. When you add homes to the mix, the fire becomes more intense and more dangerous.

While many things such as sloping lots, availability of water and winds over 30 miles per hour are out of our control, there are some measures that homeowners in The Retreat can take to lessen the chance of home loss due to wildfire. These include:

  • Visible addresses - visible at night and in heavy smoke and non-combustible

  • Access - driveways should be at least 12 feet wide and have 13 feet of vertical clearance

  • Have a plan ready in advance. Know how to turn electricity and propane off. Have fire extinguishers and make sure all members of the family know how to use them. put together an emergency kit and keep it where it is readily available. Plan how you will contact members of the family and where you will meet.

  • Keep your insurance up to date and make sure you have adequate coverage.

One thing that can be done to help keep your home from burning is to create a defensible space around your home.

Defensible Space: 

This is an area around your home and structures where the vegetation is modified and maintained to slow the rate and intensity of an advancing wildfire.

1) Thinning out continuous tree and brush cover around structures.

  • The first 15 feet around a home should be free of all flammable vegetation.

  • For 75-150 feet beyond the first 15 feet, tree crowns should not be touching. The actual distance depends upon the slope. The more slope, the more distance from the house.

  • Clumps of 2 or 3 trees are okay if open area surrounds them.

  • Trim ranches that extend over eaves of roofs. Remove branches within 15 feet of a chimney.

2) Prune branches from all trees within the defensible space

  • Remove lower branches 6-8 feet off the ground on any trees remaining within the defensible space of 75-150 feet from the structure.

  • Remove shrubs and small trees or other potential ladder fuels from under large trees

3) Remove dead matter and other ground litter within the defensible space

4) Maintain the defensible space annually

  • Remove any debris that accumulates during the year

  • Stack firewood uphill or on a contour and at least 15 feet from your home

  • Maintain a greenbelt immediately around you home using grass, flower gardens, or Firewise shrubbery. An alterative is rock or other noncombustible material

  • Mow dry grass and weeds to a height of 6 inches or less for a distance of 30 feet

  • Clean roof and gutter of pine needles and leaves

Remember that you must notify the ACC before you remove any living tree.

By taking steps to make your home firewise, you are giving your home a chance to survive while the firefighters work to bring the fire under control. Remember a fire department's effectiveness in fighting a wildfire starts with YOU.

Wildfire specialists are warning us to be vigilant this year. The wet weather this spring has brought succulent undergrowth that dries out in the summer. Since many wildfires start and spread in this dry undergrowth, it is necessary to clear the undergrowth away from our homes.

REMOVAL OF DEAD AND INFESTED TREES

October 02, 2017

Please do your part in removing trees that are infected by beetles or mistletoe. There are tree service professionals in Estes Park who are proficient in this area. If you have a neighbor whose trees are infected and risks your property, the first step is to contact them directly. Alternatively, you can contact any board member.

1 / 1

Please reload