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Alta Ski Area’s Environment – Part 1, Planting a Forest

Posted: December 18th, 2013 | Author:

Over the course of the winter, Alta Environmental Center Sustainability Coordinator, Maura Olivos, will be writing a series of blog posts that will shed light on Alta Ski Area’s environment and its environmental efforts. This is her first post.

When I tell folks that Alta Ski Area planted 4,000 trees over the summer with over 300 volunteers the reaction is a bit of wow and surprise, along with a deep nod of approval. However, planting the trees is only part of the story. The rest is rather fascinating.

Alta Ski Area’s Vegetation Management Plan includes a forest management component and within this section is the annual charge of planting trees for age, species diversity and reforestation.   This annual practice usually consists of planting around a thousand trees. But this summer ASA out did themselves by planting 3,100 limber pines (Pinus flexilis) and 900 Englemann Spruce (Picea engelmannii).  However, it all started three years ago . . .

Alta Environmental Center

Planting trees.

In 2010 the Forest Service of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest noticed a bountiful production of limber pine cones. With increased infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle on our Limber Pines the Forest Service saw a great opportunity to reap the benefits of the harvest and complete a massive Limber Pine seed collection throughout Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, including Alta.  The seed went through its usual process of being dried, cleaned, tested, stored, and grown at the Forest Service’s regional grow-factory, the Lucky Peak Nursery in Boise, Idaho.  For this first year’s planting  3,100 Limber Pines were grown to plant on the ridgelines of Alta and picked up by an Alta Company Suburban two days prior to the big day.  The tall order of planting these trees was split into two days.  Day one, September 7th included 2,000 Limber Pines, 128 volunteers, 7 Alta Ski Area employees, 5 TreeUtah staff, 4 Whole Foods staff split into 5 groups from the Top of Supreme Lift to the top of Wildcat Lift.  Day two, September 29th included 1,100 Limber Pines, 89 University of Utah students and faculty, 3 Alta Ski Area employees, and 2 TreeUtah staff planting up and along the Patsy Marley Ridgeline.

Alta Environmental Center

Planting trees.

For the Englemann Spruce we have to go back to 1977 when I was just a twinkle in my Mother’s eye. The Forest Service saw a similar opportunity with a bountiful seed production in the Wolf Creek area.  The exception is that the seed was dried and stored – maybe even a little forgotten– until 2010.  The bag of seed amounted to tens of thousands on the shelf, but foresters were not sure of its viability, so they decided to test 100 seeds.  Low and behold they grew to healthy seedlings and were planted.  Seeing as how the seed was good, Silviculturist – Jim Gibson of Kamas decided to grow 105,000 trees from that seed for the reforestation of the East Fork Fire area of 2003 near Bear River and the Wolf Creek Silver Meadows area that was badly hit by spruce bark beetle.  When tree planting crews came in however, they saw that there was a lot of natural regeneration, leaving about 15,000 trees homeless.  Alta Ski Area acquired 1,100 of those spruce seedlings and proceeded to plant them throughout the summer over 5 days with 224 volunteers, Alta Ski Area, TreeUtah, Salt Lake Ranger District, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Friends of Alta, and the Town of Alta.

There you have it – 4,000 trees and one summer.  A major part of the story I take home is the amazing ability of trees and their seeds.  As an ecologist, I’m aware that many seed species can actually stay viable for centuries, some are well equipped to travel by air, water, or hitchhike on an unsuspecting being.  I could go on about seeds forever, but that is another story.  The other part that stands out is all of the people and agencies that are dedicated to trees.  The extensive management that is completed by the Forest Service, Alta Ski Area, TreeUtah and dedicated volunteers is a hopeful and wonderful thought.

As for next tree planting season, will Alta beat their record?  Highly doubtful. But they will be planting. If you want to join in on the fun, the stories and work, make sure you sign up.   For more information on Alta’s tree Pplanting program, conservation work, and general sustainability efforts contact Maura Olivos, Sustainability Coordinator and Ecologist for the Alta Environmental Center molivos@alta.com or 801.832.1700.

Special Thanks to Jim Gibson from the Heber-Kamas Ranger District, Lucky Peak Nursery, and all the Staff at TreeUtah!

Words by Maura Olivos


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