Forest plan finally unveiled |

Forest plan finally unveiled

Dennis Webb

GLENWOOD – Heeding widespread and wide-ranging public comments, the White River National Forest unveiled a new management plan Tuesday that’s less restrictive of human uses than it had previously proposed.

Making concessions in such areas as ski area expansion and river flow restrictions, the measure is a “balanced alternative” that responds to the input provided since the conservation-oriented “Alternative D” draft plan was released almost three years ago, WRNF Supervisor Martha Ketelle said in introducing the plan.

“It allows for a range of uses and development opportunities, some more so than Alternative D,” Ketelle said.

At the same time, the measure also incorporates some more environmentally minded measures than “D” intended, including a major new wilderness addition at Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek, and a ban on any summer travel off roads and trails by motorized users and mountain bikers.

“I think there are significant changes between” the draft and final plans, said Ketelle.

She said the changes included increased dispersed recreation opportunities, “but we’ve kept those expanded opportunities within the threshold that protects the health of the environment as well.”

Alternative D proposed putting a higher emphasis on protecting the forest’s physical and biological uses than on human uses. More than 14,000 public comments were submitted in response to it, with some pressing for a better balance between conservation and those human uses.

The final plan selected, called Alternative K, appears to somewhat respond to the pro-human-use push.

“I chose Alternative K because it provides a wide variety of recreation opportunities and forest uses while promoting ecosystem health,” Rick Cables, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.

The measure was generally praised by one of the draft measure’s sharpest critics, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction.

“We’re still evaluating the fine print, but there’s no question that the final product is a marked and meaningful improvement over the preferred alternative,” he said in a prepared statement.

Environmentalists, speaking in a conference call, lamented what they saw as retreats from several conservation aspects of Alternative D.

“We believe that there were major opportunities that were lost in the final plan,” said Jamey Fidel, a staffer with the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.

Key decisions in final plan

– While Alternative D would have allowed no ski area expansions beyond current permit areas, the final plan will allow for some expansions, particularly in resorts that are closer to the high skier population base on the Front Range. As many as 51,519 acres would be allocated for existing and potential ski area development, compared to about 43,000 under Alternative D. However, no new ski areas would be allowed.

– Motorized and mechanized travel will be limited to designated travel routes in the summer. Road reconstruction and maintenance will be emphasized over construction of new roads. Conversion of roads to trails, or full decommissioning of roads that are no longer needed, will be a priority. Construction of new roads may occur, but the use of temporary roads will be stressed. Redundant roads, such as those running parallel to each other, will be reduced, and loop systems will be emphasized.

Off-trail snowmobile use will still be allowed, but defined off-trail “play areas” are instituted in some areas, such as the Hagerman Pass area.

– The final plan abandons a draft plan proposal for the Forest Service to use its permitting authority to protect 10 percent of streams through such means as requiring bypass flows. Instead, as sought by McInnis, the plan will call for a more collaborative approach that would include working with Colorado’s water laws.

– The plan would provide for 82,000 acres of new wilderness, if Congress chooses to designate it. That’s up from 47,000 acres in the draft plan, largely due to the addition of the 50,000-acre Red Table Mountain/Gypsum Creek addition.

The forest plan is being instituted amid budget cutbacks for national forests. Ketelle said she isn’t expecting more money for enforcement purposes. She said the WRNF has the funds needed to erect signs to mark some of the changing land uses, and also is counting on a public awareness campaign.

“Hopefully education will be a large component of how we change people’s behavior and where they go,” he said.

Asked whether she considers the new plan precedent-setting, Ketelle said, “Forest plans don’t make policy, but they deal with policy that exists. I think if there’s a uniqueness about this forest plan it’s that it is dealing with a lot of issues that are at the forefront of public lands management.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User