As the seasons change in Southwest Colorado, I’m reminded how much I look forward to stoking the fire, sitting back and enjoying the radiant warmth. Fall is a time to prepare and stock up for the winter months. For me, the simple act of wood cutting, splitting and stacking is a satisfying way to build confidence that all will be well in the coming months.
We’re fortunate at the San Juan Mountains Association to have our own kind of satisfying wood harvest each fall – preparing for our Christmas Trees for Conservation fundraiser. This month, we’ll bring together over 70 volunteers – old friends and new – to help gather white fir from the Junction Creek Road beyond Animas Lookout. It’s one way we help prepare the forest for the year ahead.
Rocky Mountain white fir (Abies concolor), adorned with bluish silvery-green needles, is a popular choice for Christmas trees because of their attractive triangular shape and excellent needle retention. White fir is a softwood tree existing in an elevation range between 7,900 and 10,200 feet in Colorado, and growing up to 1.5 feet per year. Unlike our local ponderosas, white fir trees retain their lower branches, which, while attractive, can have serious implications for forests in the path of a wildfire.
Over the past two centuries, the harvesting of larger diameter trees, coupled with wildfire prevention, has caused an abundance of fuel loading and an increase of Abies concolor on the landscape. In the past, white fir were considered undesirable by the lumber industry, which meant they were not harvested – adding to the hardy populations we see today. In the face of a wildfire, the establishment of these trees increases the horizontal continuity of fuel loads. White fir, in particular, acts as a wildfire ladder fuel, quickly transporting flames from the ground into the canopy- which if conditions are wrong, can result in a rapidly moving, potentially catastrophic wildfire. By thinning the population of white fir, we can help reduce this risk.
On Nov. 19, we’ll thin more than 350 white firs from the proximity of Junction Creek Road, contributing to the spacing between forest fuels by enhancing a buffer to the natural fuel break that is the road. The Christmas Trees for Conservation event is just one of the ways that SJMA is working with the San Juan National Forest and our community to preserve our beloved landscapes in Southwest Colorado. We need your help! Please consider volunteering up for a morning or afternoon shift on Nov 19. We especially need drivers with 16-foot open trailers to help us transport trees to town this year. You can sign up here: https://sjma.org/events.
When we bring these trees to town, we’ll again set up sales at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad parking lot at the corner of Camino del Rio and West College Avenue. Along with balsam fir trees from Wisconsin, the local white fir trees will be available starting Nov. 25. The SJMA Christmas Trees for Conservation lot will be open noon to 6 p.m. Sunday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. This is SJMA’s signature fundraiser, now in its 10th year, and proceeds contribute to our stewardship and conservation education programs. We’re grateful to the D&SNGR, along with other marquis sponsors, including Target Rental, Southwest Ag Inc., Durango Local News and Bob’s Johns, for their support of Christmas Trees for Conservation.
So, as you look ahead to winter months and the coming year, consider stoking your own fire by contributing to SJMA, and bringing a white fir from the San Juan Mountains into your own home to enjoy. You’ll feel the radiant warmth from helping the forest, and your community, by adorning your home with a beautiful Christmas tree this year.
Mike Wight is the stewardship director with San Juan Mountains Association.