USFS decides on White River forest plan
SUMMIT COUNTY – More than two years after the White River National Forest formally adopted a revised management plan, U.S. Forest Service leaders in Washington, D.C. have decided on 14 pending appeals of the plan, ordering only a few changes to standards and guidelines, while leaving the overall zoning intact.The decision affects management of 2.3 million acres of national forest land, from the Continental Divide to the Colorado Plateau, including more than three-quarters of Summit County’s land area.White River National Forest (WRNF) planner Melany Glossa, based out of headquarters in Glenwood Springs, said officials there are still examining the appeals decision document (more than 150 pages) and have sent out written notifications to appellants, expected to arrive via mail early next week. Until the appellants have had a chance to review the decision document, Glossa said she would not discuss all the details of the decision.But some elements have potential consequences for site-specific management in Summit County. For example, the plan allocates several thousand acres of as-yet undeveloped terrain for potential ski area expansions at several local resorts.Environmental groups appealed, claiming the 2002 plan gave too much leeway for ski resort expansions, and asked the agency to shrink the areas designated for lift-served resort skiing. At the same time, the ski industry, represented by Colorado Ski Country USA and Vail Resorts challenged other management allocations, including designation of Jones Gulch, near Keystone, as a forested landscape linkage corridor. In all these instances, the 2002 plan decision was affirmed by the appeals team, Glossa said.The ski industry also challenged standards and guidelines pertaining to management of wildlife, roadless areas, water quality and for the above-treeline alpine zone at lift-served resorts.Glossa said that, as a result of the appeals decision, some of those standards and guidelines will be removed, or will require further clarification. For example, the rules for managing alpine areas will not apply in parts of the forest zoned for lift-served skiing, she said.Glossa said the appeals team in Washington received a total of 14 appeals and identified 75 separate appeal issues. The WRNF plan direction was upheld in 68 of those issues. Three others were upheld with requests for minor clarifications. Four appeal issues will result in changes to the plan, Glossa explained.”We’re very happy with the appeals decision,” said Glossa. “There’s nothing in there that says we have to stop what we’re doing.”The appeals team in Washington, D.C. ordered the WRNF to remove a water standard that applies to the 8.25 zoned lift-served skiing, Glossa said, explaining that the standard called for newly acquired water rights to be held in the name of the federal government.Another forestwide water standard, relating to the maintenance of recreational fishery values, will also be removed, Glossa said.And finally, the appeals team also decided to remove a forestwide guideline pertaining to the management of roadless areas, Glossa concluded.The plan revision process took five years and was contentious and politically charged, spanning the change in administrations from Bill Clinton to Bush. But former White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle said the agency achieved an unprecedented level of public awareness and participation. Despite delays, the 2002 plan represented a strong and viable compromise among the many different interest groups, she said.The decision on the Forest Plan appeals will be posted on Monday at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver.
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