Wildfire concerns could shape roadless areas | SummitDaily.com

Wildfire concerns could shape roadless areas

summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A round of local public input sessions on national forest management kicked off in Silverthorne last week, with county planners recommending roadless designations for nearly all of the 19,927 acres of inventoried roadless acres in the Lower Blue.

There are 12 roadless parcels in the basin, ranging between 6,683 acres and 631 acres in size, including several with wilderness potential.

In a draft recommendation presented to the Lower Blue Planning Commission, county planners suggested removing the roadless designation from the 631-acre Ryan Gulch parcel, adjacent to the Mesa Cortina subdivision in order to facilitate wildfire hazard mitigation.

After making the rounds at all four sub-basin planning commissions, county staff will formulate a recommendation for the Board of County Commissioners, ultimately to be presented to a statewide roadless task force at a Glenwood Springs hearing in June.

“The task force has been getting plenty of rhetoric from all the interest groups, but what they need are specific recommendations,” said county manager Ron Holliday.

The local sessions stem from a controversial Forest Service roadless rule issued under the Clinton administration that was rescinded by incoming Bush officials, replaced by a new rule calling for a state-by-state petitioning process. Both rules are still under litigation.

The county’s recommendations for roadless status in the Lower Blue were tempered by the widely recognized need to mitigate wildfire hazards in areas affected by mountain pine beetles.

Holliday said the rule should be written so that it’s clear that motorized and mechanized access can be used to do the needed work. As well, the county wants to make sure that pre-existing access rights to headgates and irrigation ditches are preserved.

“My concern is that we’re going to surrounded by extreme fire danger. I want to be sure that, if a fire starts, I want a couple of D-9s to be able to go in there,” said planning commissioner Keith Schaefer.

One option would be to carve buffers out of the Lower Blue roadless parcels near residential zones and other critical areas like watersheds to ensure that access, Holliday said.

Under temporary rules for roadless management, some mechanized access is specifically allowed to address public health and safety issues, according to U.S. Forest Service Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton.

The county’s recommendations should represent a balance between recognizing the unique natural resource values of roadless areas and the need to employ sound environmental stewardship practices, according to the draft language presented to the Lower Blue planning commission.

The county “fully supports timber harvests and vegetative management practices in roadless areas to improve forest health, and the use or building of roads to effectively respond to and fight fires,’ according to the draft recommendation.

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