Signed, sealed & delivered
BRECKENRIDGE – If the Summit County commissioners have their way, the U.S. Forest Service will maintain – and even add – to the inventory of about 60,000 designated national forest roadless acres in Summit County.At a public hearing Tuesday in Breckenridge, the BOCC heard strong support for its roadless planning efforts, but also took a few shots from the public for recommending that the roadless designation be removed from the 630-acre Ryan Gulch parcel, which partially surrounds the densely populated Wildernest subdivision. “I believe you can do the needed forest management under existing zoning,” said Breckenridge resident Doug Malkan, responding to county manager Ron Holliday’s comments that the roadless designation could impede efforts to reduce wildfire risks in the forests around Wildernest.”We’re responsible for people’s safety,” said Tom Long, usually a staunch advocate of the Republican doctrine of individual responsibility. “The real concern is we don’t hamstring ourselves to where (U.S. Forest Service district ranger) Rick Newton says it’s going to be six, 12, 18 months before we can get a permit to go in there and cut,” Long said.A number of local citizens voiced their opposition to removing the Ryan Gulch roadless designation, challenging the county’s position that the roadless status could hinder forest management efforts. Ryan Gulch is one of the few local areas where the Forest Service has completed the required studies for forest health work, and some mitigation has already been done. It’s not the roadless status that has blocked additional work, but the lack of Forest Service funds, said Continental Divide Land Trust executive director Leigh Girvin.”I’m opposed to roads in the area, and I oppose taking Ryan Gulch out of the roadless category,” said Watch Hill condo owner and part-time resident Barbara Turner, comparing the diversity of wildlife in the Ryan Gulch wetlands to Alaskan tundra.County commissioner Bill Wallace explained that removal of the roadless designation doesn’t automatically mean roads will be built in the area. The underlying forest management allocation – in this case, elk habitat – governs use of the area, Wallace said.But several of the residents who spoke clearly understood that rationale, yet still expressed their concerns that removal of the roadless designation would somehow make it easier to build roads and perhaps other developments on that prized parcel of land. They wanted the designation to remain in place because the area serves as a buffer to the nearby Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.Only one person spoke in favor of the county’s recommendation to remove the roadless designation. Gray Pearson, a local engineer who helped design parts of the infrastructure in the Wildernest area, said the subdivision needs alternate road access, and explained that the Ryan Gulch area would provide room for a suitable connection with the Frisco area. He said the existing roads are sub-standard. Frisco resident Laura Rossetter also called for continued roadless status for the Ryan Gulch parcel, suggesting that the county and Forest Service find a way to leave the area open for mitigation temporarily and then revert to roadless status for the long-term.Rossetter, along with several other speakers, pointed out that it’s not possible to completely protect people in the so-called red zone from fire danger. The bigger danger might be to give people a false sense of security, Rossetter suggested, adding that it’s more important to make sure citizens realize they live in a potentially dangerous place and that they must take steps to protect themselves.Commissioner Long acknowledged that even clear-cutting every tree in Ryan Gulch wouldn’t prevent a wildfire from sweeping through Wildernest in a worst-case scenario.”But it gives some run time to get the hell out of the ‘hood,” he said. “There’s some real issues up there with egress and access, and we need to make our best effort.””It’s a life-safety issue and we need to do our best to protect the public in a thoughtful and conscientious manner,” added Wallace, supporting the county’s rationale for removing the roadless tag. Long also made references to lawsuits filed by property owners in the wake of the disastrous 2002 Front Range Hayman Fire, claiming authorities didn’t do enough to protect the forests in advance of the blaze.”We need to make our best effort,” Long concluded. The BOCC voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations as presented by staff. They will be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service at a June 21 meeting of a state roadless task force in Glenwood Springs.One potential area of future conflict with regard to the BOCC comments is the fact that the underlying White River forest plan zoning for the roadless parcels potentially allows road building in 11 of the 19 inventoried roadless areas.For more detailed roadless info, go to http://www.summitdaily.com/roadless. The link includes a timeline of the Forest Service roadless planning process, site-specific county recommendations and maps of roadless areas.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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