County sets up roadless planning process
SUMMIT COUNTY – With management of about 69,000 acres of roadless national forest land at issue, local residents have a lot at stake in the current state review of a Clinton-era roadless rule.Summit citizens will get a chance to be part of the debate during a series of upcoming planning commission meetings tentatively set to begin in early March, followed by Board of County Commissioner (BOCC) hearings later in the spring.The goal is to develop a BOCC resolution that will be forwarded to the state roadless task force, said county planner John Roberts.”Really, we’re looking at this as sort of a validation effort, in which we’re going to look at existing allocations in the WRNF plan,” Roberts said.Before the public process begins, county officials are meeting with the U.S. Forest Service to “harmonize” information on roadless areas. Site visits are planned in late January and early February, followed by a meeting of an ad hoc roadless group. This group, which would include the Colorado Division of Wildlife, will discuss key issues identified during the site visits.What’s the big idea?At issue is how that acreage, spread across 16 parcels, will be managed in the future. All the roadless chunks in Summit County have different management prescriptions under the White River National Forest plan (ranging from lift-served skiing to elk habitat and backcountry recreation). The roadless designation is essentially a planning overlay. It allows the parcels to be managed under their forest plan allocations, while calling for the long-term maintenance of roadless areas and habitat improvement for threatened, rare and sensitive species. That means, for example, that ski resort activities are not necessarily precluded in a roadless area that overlaps with an area allocated for lift-served skiing, as long as the roadless characteristics of the area are preserved.Roadless standards and guidelines in the White River forest plan also call for the maintenance and restoration of ecosystem composition and structure, such as reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects or threat of insect or disease epidemics. In other words, forest health and wildfire mitigation projects are allowed. This is critical, because the argument has been made that a roadless designation could prevent such forest work. Summit County’s roadless areas include several significant parcels that are recommended as wilderness near the existing Ptarmigan Wilderness area. Some of the roadless areas are quite large, including the 8,378 Tenderfoot Mountain parcel, parts of which have been marked by unauthorized motorized use in recent years. The Porcupine Peak roadless area is another 8,000-acre-plus parcel where A-Basin is contemplating a terrain addition in Montezuma Bowl, an area allocated for lift-served skiing under the White River forest plan.What brings this up?The Clinton roadless rule was rolled back by the incoming Bush administration in 2001. At the national level, the rule is still mired in litigation, as several states have sued the federal government. In Colorado, the State Legislature created a formal roadless review process, setting up the task force that will make recommendations to Gov. Bill Owens, who will subsequently make a recommendation to the U.S. Forest Service.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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