New forest roadless rule on the table
SUMMIT COUNTY – The long-running rumble over National Forest roadless areas gained momentum this week with a new U.S. Forest Service proposal that would give individual states much more say over how roadless areas are designated and managed. As a first step, an interim rule will be extended 18 months, continuing the status quo and giving Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth the final say over any roadless-area activity. Bosworth has not authorized any road building since the interim rule first took effect.Environmental groups said the proposed plan, still subject to a 60-day comment period, would gut the 2001 national roadless rule approved by the Clinton administration, which set aside about 58 million acres of National Forest land, some of it as de facto wilderness.Colorado totals about 4.4 million roadless National Forest acres. Old-growth forests are at risk, as well as water quality and wildlife habitat, several national and state groups said in a barrage of press releases.The Clinton rule was challenged in court, resulting in conflicting rulings, with some appeals still pending.
Many western Republicans opposed the roadless plan as too restrictive and claimed the Forest Service, under Clinton, did not adequately consider state and local interests when it developed the rule.Forest Service officials said the new proposal highlights a partnership role with state and local governments. White River National Forest officials declined to comment, referring questions to agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.Summit County is almost 80 percent composed of the White River National Forest.”Our actions today advance President Bush’s commitment to cooperatively conserving roadless areas on national forests,” Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said in a prepared statement, unveiling the new rule while visiting Idaho. “The prospect of endless lawsuits represents neither progress, nor certainty for communities. Our announcements today illustrate our commitment to working closely with the nation’s governors to meet the needs of local communities, and to maintaining the undeveloped character of the most pristine areas of the National Forest System.”Separately, Veneman also proposed establishing a national advisory committee to provide expert consultation for implementing the state-specific petition rule-making process. Members of the committee would include experts in fish and wildlife biology, fish and wildlife management, forest management, outdoor recreation and other relevant disciplines.
What about the Summit?On the eastern end of the forest, 19 percent – about 61,000 acres – of the forest land in the Dillon Ranger District has been mapped as roadless, according to Mike Liu, a senior official with the Dillon Ranger District who is on a year-long leave of absence.Characterizing the thrust of the Clinton roadless plan in a previous interview, Liu said, “With the rapid development that’s taking place on private land, these undeveloped portions of Forest Service land are important for other values, like wildlife habitat and open space. This policy reflects a shift in emphasis toward those values,” he said.Significant roadless areas in-clude the western face of the Tenmile Range, the Red Peak area northeast of Hoosier Pass, the Porcupine Gulch area near Arapahoe Basin, a sliver between I-70 and the Eagles Nest Wilderness in the vicinity of Vail Pass, along with some of the terrain from Vail Pass down toward Jacques Creek and Copper Mountain.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said it’s still too early to say what the proposal might mean for Forest Service lands in Summit County. Generally not regarded as logging country, roadless area management in this area has been more discussed in the context of recreation, including ski- area activities in designated roadless lands near existing resorts, as well as motorized recreation management. The fate of some roadless areas in the White River National Forest is also at issue in still-pending appeals of the forest plan.
“In general, if decisions can be made at the state level, it’s a good thing,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace, explaining that the Forest Service needs to find a balance between considering the broad national interest and taking into account local knowledge and needs.Roadless issues in Summit County revolve around motorized off-road use for the most part, Wallace said, calling for the agency to keep tight control over all recreational activities to protect resources.Local backcountry enthusiast and Wilderness Sports owner Tom Jones Jr. said he opposes any incursions into roadless areas.”It’s a large part of what people come to enjoy in Summit County,” he said. “There are plenty of roads for recreation as it is. Roadless areas are a dwindling resource. We have a recreation-based economy here, and roadless and wild areas are a big part of that.”Jones said the federal government should manage federal lands and not pass the buck to local or state governments that might be more apt to listen to narrow special interest groups.He said there could be some areas of interest to loggers in parts of the area, mentioning the Lower Blue and old-growth spruce and fir around Piney Peak, for example.Bob Berwyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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