Forest Service won’t start over on White River plan |

Forest Service won’t start over on White River plan

Jeremy Heiman

The U.S. Forest Service says it will not honor a demand by Republican legislators to start over on its management plan for the White River National Forest.

Rep. Scott McInnis, of Grand Junction, made the request in an Oct. 29 letter to Lyle Laverty, Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region. The letter also was signed by Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard, and Reps. Joel Hefley, Bob Schaffer and Tom Tancredo, all of Colorado.

Lynn Young, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, said the letter will be taken into consideration, as will all other input received, in creating a final plan from the draft released at the end of July. Young said although reams of public input went into the draft plan, comments received since the completion of the draft will play a large part in determining the shape of the final plan.

“We’ll get thousands of comments,” Young said. “We’ll try to produce a final plan that’s a combination of the laws we work under, what people want and preserving the resource for future generations.”

Josh Penry, press secretary for McInnis, said McInnis feels the draft plan is not even a good starting-off point. He said the draft represents a major departure from the multiple-use philosophy that has guided National Forest management in the past, and said it starts off in a “restrictive direction” when it should start of in a “common sense direction.”

McInnis, Penry said, thinks it’s necessary to take biological diversity into consideration, but it’s also necessary to consider tourism, recreation and water rights.

Penry said McInnis and the other legislators don’t have any real leverage to stop the Forest Service from going forward with the plan, because the Forest Service is part of the executive branch of the federal government, and not under the control of Congress. But he said the branches of government generally are respectful of each other’s requests in such discussions. Young said this is in fact happening. Regional Forester Laverty, on business in Washington, D.C., last week, stopped in to visit with McInnis.

McInnis’ letter requests that the draft plan “be remanded back and the process of developing the plan begin anew, this time with appropriate and wide-ranging citizen input.

“The proposed plan would turn the White River National Forest into a wildlife and biological preserve, which runs counter to the spirit and reason for the creation of the national forests,” the letter states.

Young emphasized that the present White River National Forest management plan is not a final plan, but a draft, and that there’s nothing to take back since the draft is going through the prescribed process and can still be changed.

“I think the process is working,” Young said. “The process is to get comments, and we’re getting lots of comments. The letter from the congressman is part of the public comment.”

“We’ll come out with a final plan,” he continued. “Not one that has everything everyone wants, but one that incorporates the comments.” He said people can still propose things that are not in the draft at this time.

Alternative D, the preferred alternative selected by Forest Service officials in the environmental impact assessment process, has become a lightning rod for criticism from a certain sector of forest users, partly because it constrains uses already in effect, Young said. One example is closure of certain areas to snowmobiles.

But Alternative D was chosen for numerous reasons, some of them beyond the boundaries of the forest, Young said. The population of the state is growing out of control, Young said, with two million more people expected to populate the Denver area within the time the new plan would be in effect. The agency’s mandate to protect the resource must be carried out in the face of that growth.

“How are we going to deal with increased use, increased demand?” Young asked. “Just think what it’s going to be like in 15 years around Aspen and Vail.”

He said those who say the proposed draft plan would exclude people from the national forest are wrong. “None of the alternatives exclude people from their national forest,” he said. “But there are different levels of constraint.”

Young said he thinks the White River National Forest planning process has attracted more attention than other recently completed Western Slope forest plans for several reasons. The WRNF is very visible, being on the Interstate 70 corridor and containing several world-class resorts. It’s also close to population centers on the Front Range and has the country’s premier elk herd.

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