60,000 local acres at issue in latest USFS rule twist | SummitDaily.com

60,000 local acres at issue in latest USFS rule twist

summit daily news
Courtesy White River National Forest

SUMMIT COUNTY ” In the midst of Summit County’s roadless areas, the bears are on the move, searching for leftover berries from last fall.

The elk are moving to spring calving grounds, and migratory songbirds, including colorful rosy finches and grosbeaks, fill the air with the sharp trills and tweets of the spring season.

Yet, Summit’s pristine roadless areas could become vulnerable to commercial interests as in road building and logging, as the Bush administration recently nullified the so-called 2001 Clinton Roadless Rule, under which the White River National Forest (WRNF) tallied about 59,000 acres of roadless territory in Summit County and about 640,000 acres forestwide.

In Colorado, a bill passed by the legislature and awaiting Gov. Owens’ signature, sets up a bipartisan task force that will make a roadless recommendation to the Forest Service in 18 months.

Here in Summit County, wilderness activist Currie Craven said he thinks it’s “absolutely critical” to form a grassroots group to provide roadless comment on a very local level.

Leadership could come from the county commissioners and the U.S. Forest Service, Craven said, explaining that it’s important to make sure all stakeholders are represented, including local governments, property owners and ranchers, as well as environmental groups, state wildlife biologists and recreation interests.

Roadless areas also are the land base for any potential additions to the formal wilderness system, Craven said. Road-building could eventually lead to preclusion from wilderness designation.

Currie said past local efforts show high interest in protecting roadless areas, citing a battle several years ago over a proposed new backcountry hut, the then-named Lewis Hut, in a roadless area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass.

Many of the 19 identified roadless areas face some sort of management pressure or natural resource issues, including:

– The 1,583-acre Elliot Ridge Roadless Area, at the north end of the Gore Range, which faces possible motorized encroachments, while the Corral Creek Roadless Area may harbor a genetically pure strain of rare cutthroat trout;

– Part of another roadless parcel near Silverthorne, which may have been eyed for a potential land swap by an adjacent developer; and

– The combined Tenderfoot Mountain/Porcupine Peak roadless areas, which were considered for wilderness designation during the recent White River National Forest plan revision.

For now, the 19 roadless areas are allocated to various management strategies ” in some cases, they may even be divided among strategies, according to WRNF planner Dan Hormaechea.

The WRNF plan includes guidelines that call for maintaining the roadless characteristics of the inventoried roadless areas, requiring detailed environmental analyses for any management changes that could have significant impacts, Hormaechea said.

The new federal plan ” the one that replaces the Clinton rule ” gives “heightened deference” to what the state wants,” said state Rep. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, author of a state measure that sets up a task force to make a formal roadless recommendation.

Penry has worked on forest issues since his days as a staffer for former GOP congressman Scott McInnis, and gave the environmental community in Colorado credit for working on crafting a state process that will find “reasonable people bringing political balance to the table.”

Under the new federal rule, each state will have a chance to define its own process for identifying roadless areas.

Wyoming, Penry said, is likely to stick with whatever is in the forest plans, while other states are likely to say they want to adopt the provisions and roadless designations of the Clinton rule.

Penry said he expects that under Colorado’s process, the conservation interests will get more than what is in the forest plans, while multiple-use advocates and motorized-recreational users will get finality and permanence.

“We think all the roadless areas should retain their protection,” said Steve Smith, regional assistant director of The Wilderness Society. “They are rare treasures in a world where nature is increasingly giving way to development and population pressures.”

One of the premises of the initial rule was that roadless areas serve as reservoirs for biological diversity, and act as barriers against invasive species. Watershed protection is another key function, Smith concluded.

Eagle – 230,940 acres

Pitkin – 104,861 acres

Rio Blanco – 99,163 acres

Garfield – 79,215 acres

Summit – 58,924 acres

Mesa – 51,958 acres

Gunnison – 5,841 acres

Routt – 5,690 acres

TOTAL 636,592 acres

Elliot Ridge – 1,538 acres. Issues: Potential motorized encroachment, forest health wildlife values.

Black Lake West and East (near Vail Pass) – 1,644 acres. Issues: Heavy recreational use, forest health, wildlife movement corridor.

Ptarmigan A, B and C – 5,383 acres. Issues: Wildlife habitat, movement corridor, connection to I-70 “land bridge,” forest health, wildfire mitigation.

Boulder, Maryland and Willow (between Silverthorne and the Eagles Nest Wilderness – 4,040 acres. Issues: Potential land trade with adjacent development, important elk habitat, forest health and wildfire mitigation.

Tenderfoot Mountain and Porcupine Peak (between I-70 and Loveland Pass) – 17,106 acres. Issues: Pristine area considered for wilderness designation in WRNF plan revision.

East Vail – 83 acres.

Corral Creek (between I-70 and Eagles Nest Wilderness at Vail Pass) – 1,397 acres. Issues: Potential addition to Eagles Nest Wilderness, I-70 widening, increased traffic impacts, genetically pure strain of cutthroat trout.

Ryan Gulch (near Wildernest) – 632 acres. Issues: Possible bypass road from Wildernest to Frisco.

Tenmile (west flank, facing Copper) – 6,383 acres. Issues: Important lynx movement corridor, forest health, wildfire mitigation.

Ptarmigan Hill A and B – 7,993 acres. Issues: Forest health, wildfire mitigation.

Hoosier Ridge – 6,044 acres. Issues: Recreation management, forest health.

Williams Fork – 6,683 acres. Issues: Forest health, wildfire mitigation, wildlife habitat.

TOTAL – 58,926 acres

– All the inventoried roadless areas on the Dillon Ranger District are allocated by the White River National Forest plan to different management strategies, including dispersed recreation, grazing allotments, ski area operations and forested wildlife movement corridors.

– The White River plan includes guidelines for maintaining the roadless characteristics of the inventoried parcels. Any substantive management change would require an in-depth environmental impact statement, according to WRNF planner Dan Hormaechea.

– Under a federal roadless rule published in early May, local communities and states would have a major say in the designation of these areas. The new rule supplants the so-called Clinton 2001 Roadless Rule, but uses the inventory as a baseline for renewed evaluation.

– Conservation groups say the Clinton rule is still being tested in federal court, and believe it will prevail in some form.

– The 2001 rule was supported by an outpouring of favorable public comment at each round of opportunity. On the western end of the WRNF, concerns over energy development proposals will likely dwarf any issues arising in Summit County.

– The 2001 roadless rule was based in part on the premise that the Forest Service already struggles with a multimillion-dollar backlog of road maintenance costs. Early documents announcing the initiative also describe the biological value of roadless areas, as reservoirs of biodiversity and barriers against invasive species.

– Partly at issue is a philosophical debate, with preservation interests calling for a widespread protection of roadless areas, while multiple-use advocates express concern about access for motorized recreation, logging, energy development, forest health and wildfire mitigation work.

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