Bush rule puts 107,000 local acres in limbo | AspenTimes.com

Bush rule puts 107,000 local acres in limbo

About 107,000 acres of roadless forest surrounding Aspen were found to be so pristine by the U.S. Forest Service three years ago that the agency decided to preserve them for possible wilderness protection.The lands range from a 500-acre pocket up Conundrum Creek that somehow got overlooked when the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness was created to 9,600 acres of rolling hills around Woods Lake up the Fryingpan Valley.But President Bush’s decision Thursday to change roadless rules on federal lands placed the fate of the local parcels in limbo. Bush is allowing state governors help determine if federal lands should be managed to preserve their roadless characteristics.Critics contend the new rules threaten to open some of the nation’s 58 million acres of roadless forests to logging, natural gas development and off-road vehicle use. Supporters contend it rightfully gives local control over land management that affects them.States have 18 months to send petitions to the feds outlining how they want specific roadless areas managed. The secretary of the Department of Agriculture will rule on the petitions.In theory, lands like the Conundrum Creek parcel and the Woods Lake land could be caught in a tug of war. The Forest Service staff already determined in a land management plan that their roadless character should be preserved. If the state disagrees, those lands could be developed before they ever get considered for wilderness protection.Backcountry enthusiast Richard Compton said Woods Lake is a poster child for why the Bush roadless rule has sparked such heated debate. In his mind the part of the property that isn’t developed should clearly be preserved as wilderness.It’s at the base of high peaks in the Holy Cross Wilderness. It’s covered with aspen and spruce trees in a healthy forest ranging from 9,500 to 11,000 feet. The seclusion makes it prime lynx habitat.”It’s the foreground in the postcards,” Compton said of the area’s beauty. He acknowledged that the area is attractive to forest users of a different type. “This is an area that could potentially be logged,” he said, noting that the adjacent Lime Creek area was logged years earlier.The Forest Service’s inventory found 640,000 acres of roadless area in the White River National Forest. It doesn’t believe all those roadless lands should be wilderness but it determined that 298,000 acres are “capable of and available for wilderness recommendations,” according to the forest land management plan. And some of those lands have been picked for inclusion of wilderness.Dan Jiron, national press officer for the Forest Service, said management of those lands won’t change because of the Bush directive. Areas that were singled out for protection will still be managed accordingly, he said.If the state and the Forest Service disagree on how specific sites should be managed, the secretary of agriculture and his team will consult the state petition and the forest plan.Jiron said there is already a great deal of consensus over many roadless areas. He said he didn’t see a significant decline in the protection of roadless lands due to the Bush administration’s directive.From a narrow view, Aspen faces only a small direct threat from Bush’s decision because so much land already has wilderness protection.There are 491,000 acres of national forest in Pitkin County. About 54 percent of that land, or 266,864 acres, is already protected as wilderness – where motorized vehicles and extraction of minerals and timber are banned.However, several highly visible roadless areas could be affected. They include the 39,100-acre Red Table Mountain, which is partially roadless, and parts of Woods Lake and Mormon Creek in the Fryingpan drainage. Others include the 8,500-acre North Woody area in the high ground above Lenado and the 13,300-acre Assignation Ridge outside Carbondale.Compton has inventoried and mapped many of those areas for environmental groups trying to preserve them.Sloan Shoemaker, director of Wilderness Workshop, said a coalition of environmental groups fighting for protections of lands felt the Forest Service underestimated the amount of roadless land in the White River National Forest. While the federal inventory identified 640,000 acres, the environmental coalition felt about 1 million acres qualified as roadless.Shoemaker agreed that much of the land in the upper Roaring Fork Valley is protected, but Bush’s relaxation of the roadless rule could affect lands southwest of Carbondale, south of Rifle and on the Flattops. Those are places where natural gas extraction or logging could destroy unspoiled terrain, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User