SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
BAYFIELD – Anyone cutting a Christmas tree on public land can get a nice-looking species while contributing a tiny bit to forest health, says Dave Crawford, a U.S. Forest Service forester.
The white fir is a nice-looking tree and a viable substitute for a ponderosa pine or a Douglas fir, which foresters want to protect, Crawford said Monday as he headed for Beaver Meadows to cut the yule tree for his office here.
The spruce and subalpine fir also make nice Christmas trees, he said.
Crawford was accompanied by Barbara Telecky, who wanted a tree for the lobby of the Public Lands Center in Durango where she handles visitor information at the San Juan Mountains Association.
“We have prolific white fir but not a lot of the others,” Crawford said. “In fact, it’s prohibited to cut ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in the San Juan National Forest.”
No trees at all can be cut in La Plata Canyon because delineation between public and private land is not clear, he said. It’s also prohibited to cut trees in wilderness areas or within 100 feet of campgrounds, picnic areas and recreation sites.
Foresters want to spare the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, which are more finicky about their habitat, Crawford said.
In pre-settlement times, he said, natural wildfires kept forests open to sunlight and forest floors relatively clear of duff, conditions that the ponderosa and, to a lesser extent, the Douglas fir, need for optimum growth.
But firefighting philosophy changed. Instead of allowing nature to take its course, every wildfire was stopped as soon as possible.
The result was overgrown forests with dominating canopies that created shade and a buildup of duff and downed timber – not the habitat in which the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir thrive.
“The Doug fir can tolerate conditions that ponderosa can’t, but it’s still a critical species,” Crawford said. “Other conifer species can live under the canopy.”
Douglas fir also are under the threat of a bark beetle, Crawford said.
“It’s almost epidemic proportions,” Crawford said.
But white fir is a species that survives in the shade of taller species.
But its hardier nature contributes to the proliferation of a species which, during a wildfire, becomes ladder fuel that carries flames to the branches of larger trees, Crawford said.
So a white fir, as a Christmas tree can be, at the same time, elegant as well as environmentally friendly, Crawford said.