Local national forest management plan cost $7.5 million to complete | AspenTimes.com

Local national forest management plan cost $7.5 million to complete

Scott Condon

The federal government spent about $7.5 million to update a management plan for the national forest that surrounds Aspen, Vail and Glenwood Springs, according to estimates by the U.S. Forest Service.The White River National Forest Plan took about seven years to complete and is just now coming to a close. Work on that updated plan, which determines how the forest will be managed for the next 15 years, began in summer 1997.Forest planners had to digest about 14,000 letters and e-mails from concerned citizens, companies and special interest groups. They also had to rework some alternatives in response to comments by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction.After the plan was released in June 2002, it faced appeals from every direction – from a coalition of environmental groups headed by the locally based Wilderness Workshop to a national lobbying organization for off-road vehicle riders. The Forest Service recently ruled on those appeals and is implementing its findings.All that analysis takes time and money, said John Rupe, a regional planning analyst for the regional forester’s office in Denver. He said the major cost of preparing a forest plan is personnel, which runs at about $100,000 per month.”It costs about $1 million to $1.2 million per year [to produce a plan] in our experiences in the Rocky Mountain Region,” Rupe said.That type of time-consuming and costly process is at the center of the latest fight between the Bush administration and environmentalists. The administration announced Wednesday it would simplify and streamline those planning processes.The Forest Service claims the changes will allow it to create more flexible forest plans in a shorter time and smaller cost.The agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters said in a news release that forest plan revisions will take two to three years rather than five to seven. Under the new rules, the revised forest plans will be evaluated every five years to make sure goals and objectives are being met.The Forest Service believes it can cut costs for forest plans by as much as 30 percent under the new rules.The new rules will also give regional foresters more flexibility to rule on logging, mining and oil and gas drilling proposals with studies that are less detailed than were required in the past.Environmental groups criticized the new rules with allegations that they will undermine environmental protections and limit the chance for meaningful participation by citizens in local forest planning issues.Representatives of Wilderness Workshop were on vacation for the holidays and couldn’t be reached for comment on how the new rules will effect White River National Forest issues.Rupe said he had to learn more about the new rules before he could comment. “We haven’t seen it yet and the devil’s in the details,” he said.The freshly inked White River National Forest Plan will still guide everything from where logging will be allowed to where roadless areas will be maintained, and from where snowmobilers will be allowed to play to where new wilderness areas will be established. But the new regulations give foresters more flexibility when ruling on specific projects that arise, according to the Forest Service’s headquarters.Scott Condon’s e-mail is scondon@aspentimes.com