Litigation holds up Fryingpan logging project outside Basalt
The U.S. Forest Service has postponed a logging project in the Upper Fryingpan Valley until there is an outcome to the litigation opposed to it.
The project calls for the clear-cutting of 1,631 acres in the Upper Fryingpan, and has met opposition and support. In April, a group of 21 residents of the Upper Fryingpan filed a petition in the U.S. District Court of Colorado seeking to stop the project, which they claim would be detrimental to the environment and damaging to tourism.
For now, what’s referred to as the Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project is on hold because of the legal matter at hand, according to Curtis Keetch, who recently began as acting district ranger with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
“My understanding is we’re hopeful for a resolution so that we can proceed,” Keetch said Friday. “We’re not there yet; we just have to work though that litigation.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Marcia S. Krieger is presiding over the dispute, and in July set filing deadlines that go through Dec. 10, which means barring a settlement, the case likely won’t be decided upon this year.
The project area is north of Frying Pan Road to the east and northeast of Ruedi Reservoir and to the south and west of the Harry Gates Hut, which is part of the 10th Mountain Division network of backcountry ski cabins.
The Forest Service maintains the project is necessary on several fronts. In a June 28 reply to the petition opposed to the logging project, Forest Service attorneys denied the petitioners’ claims that its impacts will include “increased carbon emissions and impacts to tourism and recreation.”
The Forest Service’s reply argued the project will have the opposite effect on the environment.
“Planned vegetative treatments under the project are designed to increase the amount of young forest on the landscape and improve forest resiliency to insect, disease, wildfire and climate-related mortality, thus contributing to long-term carbon uptake and storage,” the reply said.
The project calls for the construction of 9 miles of road needed in order to clear-cut the trees. It would be the result of the Forest Service’s decision to conduct logging on 1,631 acres, down from the originally planned 1,759 acres. That decision was released in April 2018, and the reduction in acreage was in response to Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop’s objection to project.
In the meantime, litigants now fighting the project claim some timber would be sold as biomass to the Eagle Valley Clean Energy Biomass Plant in Gypsum, and the “impact on climate change is reasonably foreseeable because the Forest Service has committed to both deforestation and providing resources to the Gypsum biomass plant. Scientific consensus supports the actuality of these practices’ climate impacts,” the petition reads.
Boston’s John Swomley, whose family owns a cabin in the Upper Fryingpan, is the lead attorney for the petitioners. While unreachable for comment last week, Swomley informed The Aspen Times by email that he plans to air his concerns about the Gypsum company to Holy Cross Energy’s board of directors at its September meeting. While Holy Cross has no role in the disputed logging project, Swomley has expressed concerns about its ties with Eagle Valley Clean Energy Biomass Plant, as well as other issues.
The lawsuit names the Forest Service and Karen Schroyer, who was the district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the White River National Forest at the time the decision was made to implement the Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project. Schroyer is now deputy forest supervisor of the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon.
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Environmental leaders in Aspen are relieved and re-energized with Joe Biden’s election as president. The Trump administration had them on their heels for four years.