Environmentalists not thrilled with revised Forest Plan | SummitDaily.com

Environmentalists not thrilled with revised Forest Plan

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Forest Service officials are touting their revised White River National Forest Plan as a good mix of wildlife conservation and preservation, with allocations made to the ski, timber and fuel industries.

But some environmentalists don’t think it goes far enough.

“I think overall it is a bit of a lost opportunity by the Forest Service,” said Vera Smith, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club. “We’re a little bit disappointed. We think they gave up a lot of ground after receiving a lot of pressure.”

The new Forest Plan, last updated in 1984, was released Tuesday. It emphasizes active management of ecosystem parts to improve wildlife habitat, water quality and soil productivity. Additionally, emphasis is placed on quality recreation experience in a primarily natural setting – although recreation details on the forest will be outlined in the Travel Management Plan within the next couple of years. Yet, Forest Service officials admit the plan won’t please everyone.

Smith said the nonprofit organization is displeased with the amount of roadless area the plan protects, two-thirds of which, will be open to timber cutting. Half the land that qualifies for inclusion as wilderness also is open to timber cutting.

“That seems egregious at a time when we’re supposed to have a national policy protecting our roadless areas,” she said.

Club members also have problems with the recreation portion of the plan, most of which is to be outlined in the Travel Management Plan.

“What we needed in this plan was a strong vision,” Smith said. “We needed to see where high and low densities would be allowed. We need high-quality opportunities for various activities, and we need those that don’t exceed the ecological capacity of land. It’s almost as if they didn’t tackle anything regarding vision and direction . We didn’t see that at all. There are significant issues, and they’re growing.”

Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild, agrees.

“I think we got screwed,” he said. “Timber cuts went up by 30, 40 percent; that’s not good. The Forest Service didn’t address our concerns about having a lot of acreage dedicated to logging – 1.1 million acres, half the forest, is in Category 5 prescriptions, which allow logging. They’re allowing themselves too much discretion. And the monitoring plan doesn’t require them to do anything. We weren’t pleased with the potential expansion allowed at the ski areas. Independence Mountain: Not good. We said keep them out of there. We were afraid if they got it, they’d get Jones Gulch. We lost on that. The Division of Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife services say it’s is a very important wildlife corridor. Now it means even more ski-in/ski-out stuff at the base.”

Officials at Keystone Resort would like to build a third portal to the mountain in that area, in addition to an array of residential properties.

Jeff Berman, executive director of Colorado Wild, said the Forest Service made only token efforts to protect the riparian areas surrounding Jones Gulch.

“There’s this cherry stem into Jones Gulch,” he said of the horseshoe-shaped area that isn’t included in the potential ski area boundaries. “But it’s not sufficient to protect the wildlife corridor. And it gives the green light to expand into Jones Gulch.”

Berman said he’s also not pleased with the rationalization of increased skier visits to allow for potential expansions when ski industry trends show skier numbers flattening.

“They caved into the ski industry and the political pressure wielded by them,” he said. “They granted Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, A-Basin everything they asked for. They radically backtracked when it came to ski areas and their demand for more and more.”

He acknowledges the plan doesn’t allow ski terrain all the way to Montezuma Road, where development could subsequently take place, but said those measures were token and insignificant to preserving wildlife.

Smith said he wasn’t happy with roadless area prescriptions, either.

“There were 298,000 acres that qualified for roadless or wilderness areas, and half can have logging on them,” Smith said. “They weasel-worded it to say, “We’re going to provide for all these things, and we’re going to log to provide them.’ We’re disappointed they didn’t have better protection for roadless areas.”

Vera Smith said allocations made to lower-elevation biodiversity and conservation, while commendable, are not enough.

“It sounds good, but when you look at details, they aren’t nearly protected as they should be,” she said. “People don’t want timber-cutting, mining and gas exploration; they come here for scenic vistas, wildlife, wildness, solitude. I view it as a bone thrown. We need to protect these places as a legacy and this plan really fails to do that.

Rocky Smith said he understands the difficulty Forest Service officials had in creating the revised plan. And it wasn’t all bad, in his opinion.

“We certainly are pleased to see Martha Ketelle (Forest supervisor) stuck her neck out to (allocate acreage for wilderness),” he said. “Another positive was to require summer recreation users to stay on designated routes. And we got some closures of areas that we thought were good.”

He also said he realizes the plan doesn’t cater to any given group. But he blames “monied interests” for some of the major changes in the final plan since the draft plan was unveiled.

Currie Craven, president of Friends of Eagles Nest Wilderness, said he thinks the Forest Service did a good job of trying to balance the varied interests.

“Not everyone’s going to be happy,” he said, adding he was particularly pleased about allocations made to wilderness areas throughout the forest. “I thought it was going to be worse – a total reversal of Alternative D.”

He believes the ski areas – with the exception of Keystone’s allocation in Jones Gulch – got land they need to address crowding, timber management as necessary for the health of the forest and the Forest Service set aside areas of special interest for interpretive uses.

Comment periods regarding the Forest Plan concluded in 2000, so there’s little that can be done to change the emphasis of the plan – except on appeal, through the courts and under measures outlined to amend it as needed.

“We may consider an appeal,” Rocky Smith said. “We’ll analyze the plan, appreciate the good things we got and lick our wounds.”

Open House

– When: June 17, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

– Where: Dillon Ranger District, Silverthorne

– Info: District Ranger Jamie Connell, (970) 262-3451

To see a copy:

– Breckenridge: South Branch Library, Airport Road

– Frisco: Summit County Library, County Commons

– Silverthorne: Dillon Ranger District, 680 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne

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