THE NATURE OF BENT TREE
by Chuck Loeffler
The Bent Tree Log - February 1991
I'm sure that most of us who live in Bent Tree were influenced to move here, at least in part, by the beautiful natural surroundings. We enjoy the tranquility and natural beauty of the forest, but how many of us really appreciate its depth and complexity? If someone asked you to describe what the natural surroundings are like in Bent Tree, what would you tell them? Would you tell them that there are a lot of nice trees, some sparse grass - and that's about it? That's all most people would probably see, especially if they're just driving through the area. But there's so much more!
Bent Tree is in a mature ponderosa pine forest community, or ecosystem. Ponderosa pine forests can be found in many parts of western North America. In Colorado it occurs along the southern Front Range and the southwestern part of the state at elevations from about 7000 to 9000 feet. Forests go through various growth or developmental stages - also called successional stages. If a forested area, such as in Bent Tree, was removed by logging or decimated by fire or drought, a slow process of succession would begin to gradually bring the area back to it's current state. First the grasses and annual plants (forbs) would tend to dominate the landscape. Within a few years, small pine trees, and possibly woody shrubs such as scrub oak and mountain mahogany would become more evident. Gradually, the ponderosa pine trees would grow to dominate the area more and more, until there would again be a mature forest. This process takes from 80 to 100 years, which is the age of most of the largest ponderosa pine trees in our area.
While a forest is going through its successional stages, numerous plant and animal species appear and disappear. As trees grow larger and denser, smaller plants which require direct sunlight are crowded out. Also, the heavy layer of pine needles, branches, and cones dropped by the trees over the years makes the soil more acidic and prevents certain plants from growing. However, other plants, which have higher tolerance for the acidic soil will begin to colonize the area. With time, the pine needles and other organic matter decompose and form a fertile, though shallow, layer of topsoil. Although they may not be very obvious if you don't look for them, there are many plants which take root and grow in this shallow layer of rich soil. The one most commonly associated with mature ponderosa pine forests is the bearberry, or kinnikinnick. That's the low-growing evergreen with the red berries. It not only provides some color to the landscape, but the berries provide food for birds and other wildlife.
There are many other plants associated with our forest. These include several species of grasses, numerous types of wildflowers, perennials such as the wild rose, and various lichens, mosses, and fungi. The forest floor, although it may not look like much at first glance, is teeming with life. In addition to the plants, there are many species of animals which depend on or use the forest to make a living. Where there's adequate water we even have chorus frogs, which I'm sure you've heard during the summer.
This is the first of what, hopefully, will be a series of articles on the "nature of Bent Tree". My hope and intention is to develop more and better understanding and appreciation for our natural surroundings among Bent Tree residents, and in turn to help preserve the natural beauty and wildlife which we all enjoy. If you ever have any questions about or problems with our local wildlife, please feel free to give me a call. I've been involved in wildlife biology and management for about 20 years, and if I don't have an answer for you, I'm pretty sure I can find one.