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Breck "discouraged’ by forest plan’s outcome

BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge town officials, who said they are “very discouraged with the outcome” of the White River National Forest Plan, sent letters to U.S. Reps. Mark Udall and Scott McInnis last week outlining their concerns.

Heide Andersen, open space and trails planner for the town, said the revised Forest Plan, called Alternative K, seems to emphasize “active management” of the forest land, rather than the use of natural processes. Active management includes timber harvesting, prescribed fire and structural improvements. The town instead supports selective thinning and prescribed burns, but only if they are done with an emphasis on the environment.

After the U.S. Forest Service released the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pertaining to the proposed forest plan, the town submitted a list of changes it hoped the Forest Service would make in the final report. Among them were changes in forest prescriptions – the Forest Service term for zoning – and changes in delineations for various uses in the forest.



One of those is elk habitat, which in the final plan is much larger and includes areas that aren’t even used by elk.

Andersen said the town is also concerned about the proposed vegetation management plan. Town officials told the Forest Service they wanted such management only when needed and with the least impact to aesthetic and water quality, environmental health and the backcountry recreation experience.



“It seems the vegetation management in much of the Forest Plan is focused on habitat improvements, particularly for game species,” Andersen wrote in her report. “It is unclear how much of this is defensible when it comes to the elk habitat prescription where it calls for timber harvesting.”

Timber harvests

Town officials have also said they are concerned about timber harvesting proposed in the EIS. In the preliminary EIS, the Forest Service proposed cutting down 4.03 million board feet of timber in the Blue River Basin. Town officials called that “completely inappropriate.” And in the final document, Andersen noted, it is unclear how many board feet might be harvested, but timber harvesting could take place from Bill’s Ranch to Middle Barton Gulch and from Sapphire Point to Delaware Flats.

“There are many places within these two areas where timber cuts would be quite visible from the valley floor and could affect scenic corridors and recognized recreational trails,” Andersen wrote.

The town asked the Forest Service to keep timber harvesting and related road construction to a minimum and to do it only when scientific evidence supports the need for forest health and wildlife habitat protection.

Redesignations

Town officials also are concerned about many areas the Forest Service has redesignated to year-round motorized use, special interest areas and included within ski area boundaries – overlooking historic nonmotorized or mechanized uses.

The town suggested to the Forest Service that all non-motorized areas should stay that way, but other than an area between Pennsylvania Creek and Hoosier Ridge, none of those areas were kept intact as such.

Additionally, town officials are concerned about the requirement that mechanized uses – essentially, bikes – must stay on designated routes.

“With the lack of resources within the Forest Service, there is little to no chance there will be a concerted effort to markstay on designated routes.

“With the lack of resources within the Forest Service, there is little to no chance there will be a concerted effort to mark open even those existing system trails,” Andersen wrote. “Given that from the release of the Forest Plan forward, you are considered in violation of regulations by riding on any unmarked trails, this will be impossible to either follow or enforce.”

Additionally, the Forest Service has made designation changes that historically go counter to the activities that have taken place in those areas.

“While the town supports the increase in nonmotorized recreation opportunities, the reduction in motorized use areas between French Pass and the Middle Fork of the Swan River is a mistake,” Andersen wrote in her letter. “This is a historical use area for both winter and summer motorized use. Restricting motorized use here will only promote noncompliance and/or push the density of motorized use of another less appropriate area nearby.”

In the final EIS, the Forest Service has redesignated areas – and those new prescriptions concern the town, as well. Among them are the land between Blue Lakes and Northstar Peak, an area up to Wheeler and Pacific peaks; the area from Carter Gulch, around Breckenridge Ski Resort and south to McCullough Gulch; behind the Whatley Ranch to Ophir Mountain; the Swan Mountain Road to Delaware Flats area; and the Horseshoe Gulch area to Rock Island property.

Other areas include that from Golden Horseshoe to Lincoln Meadows, Brown Gulch, Farncomb Hill, Georgia Pass to Wise Mountain, American Gulch, and Boreas Pass Road to Bakers Tank. Most of the changes made in the final plan go against what has traditionally taken place on the land, Andersen wrote.

And the good …

The town’s efforts to have its comments considered in the Forest Plan weren’t all for naught, however.

Included in the final EIS was the town’s request to ban any kind of aerial transportation over the Tenmile Range or between the Swan River drainage and Keystone. Additionally, town officials were pleased to see Forest Service officials changed the emphasis in the forest plan from one based on biological resources, rather than human resources.

“Urban growth is a reality, and Summit County has become a playground for the state and the country,” Andersen said. “We don’t want the U.S. Forest Service to de-emphasize human recreational use.”

Ten organizations have submitted appeals about Alternative K, most of which Forest Service officials expect to solve in the next several months. In the meantime, the Forest Service is taking comment about its proposed Travel Management Plan, which addresses recreational uses in detail. The comment period ends Oct. 30.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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