Planners eye Snake River Basin roadless parcels
DILLON – The two biggest national forest roadless areas in Summit County will remain that way if local residents have anything to say about it. Both parcels, located in the Snake River Basin, were discussed at a planning commission meeting Thursday evening, with public comments wholeheartedly supporting roadless status for more than 16,000 acres of land.According to the draft recommendation from county planners, the 8,727-acre Porcupine Peak parcel – the county’s largest – should remain roadless, with some slight adjustments to its boundaries in the area around Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The Porcupine Peak parcel is in the eastern portion of the Snake River Basin, between Highway 6 and Montezuma Road.The county’s draft recommendations for the roadless areas also emphasize the preservation of existing access rights to private property, including water diversion structures and numerous mining claims surrounded by national forest lands. The county also wants the Forest Service to make it clear that access should be maintained for wildfire mitigation and forest health work.The suggested changes near A-Basin would exclude the entire Montezuma Bowl area from the roadless designation. The existing delineation partially cuts into Montezuma Bowl, and environmental groups opposed to the expansion cited the overlap in their early scoping comments on plan to add lift-served skiing on the back side of A-Basin.
After making the rounds at all four sub-basin planning commissions, county staff will formulate a recommendation for the Board of County Commissioners, to be presented to a statewide roadless task force at a Glenwood Springs hearing in June. The task force will report to Gov. Bill Owens, who will make a recommendation to the Forest Service. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will make the final determinations.The local sessions stem from a Forest Service roadless rule issued under the Clinton administration. Under former chief Mike Dombeck, the agency decided it didn’t make sense to build new roads considering the crippling maintenance backlog for the existing network. The roadless areas were also identified as important wildlife habitat, as buffers against invasive species and crucial to maintaining clean watersheds.Critics of the rule, meanwhile, claimed it created de facto wilderness uses, and expressed concern about dwindling access for motorized recreation.Incoming Bush officials replaced it with a new rule calling for a state-by-state roadless petitioning process. Both are still under litigation.
Offering his comments on the Snake River parcels, wilderness advocate Currie Craven pointed out that the Clinton roadless rule was enacted after extensive public involvement and a record number of comments, overwhelmingly in support of roadless protection.The roadless designation is essentially an overlay to the existing land-use allocations determined by the White River National Forest plan. As first proposed under Dombeck, and continued in an interim management directive, the goal is to preserve those roadless characteristics.The Porcupine Peak parcel, for example, includes a number of management zones, including ski area use and dispersed recreation. Those uses can continue, but must be managed to preserve the roadless character of the area. Snake River planning commissioners urged the county to proceed with acquisition of mining claims in the area to reduce the potential for future road-building activity.
The Tenderfoot Mountain parcel (8,371 acres) is the second largest in Summit County, extending from I-70 all the way across to Loveland Pass.Craven pointed out that a nub on the northeastern end of the parcel, near the Eisenhower Tunnel, is part of an important wildlife landbridge across I-70, and county planners said that acreage should be included in the roadless designation.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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